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10th miner was spared from ordeal by day off

When mine flooded, he was at Ozzfest

Monday, August 05, 2002

By Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette Staff Writer

They were supposed to be 10.

Ten miners, not nine, were scheduled to be on the crew that wound up trapped 240 feet underground at the Quecreek Mine last month.

Roger Shaffer Jr. thanks Ozzy Osbourne that he didn't have to go through that now world-famous, 78-hour ordeal near Somerset.

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Shaffer, 22, who lives outside nearby Hollsopple, is a "red hat," as apprentice miners are called for the red helmets they wear.

He'd been working on crew chief Randy Fogle's team for a couple of months while learning the different jobs in the mine on the way to earning a year's experience and his black hat.

Weeks ago, Shaffer's wife, Lacey, searched hard for and bought two tickets to Ozzfest, the big Osbourne tour that was to kick off at the Post-Gazette Pavilion on July 7. Because that was a Sunday, Shaffer knew he'd have the day off work.

But because Osbourne's wife, Sharon, had to undergo cancer surgery, the whole tour was postponed. When the Pittsburgh show was rescheduled for July 24, Shaffer took one of his few remaining vacation days so the couple could go to the concert.

But he was a bit reluctant, because he likes mining and making money.

Shaffer had a great time at the show -- until the drive home. Around midnight, one of his buddies, who'd worked the day shift at Quecreek, called him on his cell phone and told him their mine was flooding and his crew was inside.

Shaffer drove to the mine site, but couldn't get in or get much more information until daybreak, when he received many more calls from worried friends and relatives. When he returned to the site and saw the huge quantities of water being pumped out of the mine, he didn't believe his co-workers -- his friends -- could still be alive.

The crew really was as tight as it has been described. "Hell, you shower with them and everything else," Shaffer says. "They're all great guys, they'd do anything for me, I'd like to do the same for them."

There wasn't much he could do.

That day, Thursday, he got assigned to work the 3-to-11 p.m. shift at a typical red-hat-level job: Guarding the road leading to the mine. As the rescue effort ramped up all around him, he felt a little numb, and just felt worse as the ordeal dragged into Friday, delayed even more when the rescue-shaft drill broke down Thursday night.

He kept thinking about every member of his crew. "I should have been right there beside them."

He was off Saturday night when the drill finally broke through and the world heard, "All nine are alive." Like countless other people, he watched at home on TV as the nine miners were lifted out. But he says nobody could have been happier than this miner No. 10.

"I didn't even cry on my wedding day and I cried at that. No better feeling in the world."

He drove to Somerset Hospital, where three of the miners had been rushed.

"I didn't ask questions," Shaffer recalls. "I wasn't there for that."

He did chat a little about what happened with his best friend on the crew, Blaine Mayhugh, before going home.

That's when what happened really started to sink in. That is, what could have happened.

"Maybe if I was in there, I would have lost my life," says the young miner, who, a week later, says he's fine, but, "I still do have an odd feeling now. I don't know what it is."

He's been working helping to clean up the site and thinks he will go back down if and when the mine is reopened.

Old-timers tell youngsters like him to get out while they can. "They say once you work here so long it just grabs a hold of you." But "in this area, what the hell can I do?" He can't afford to send himself to school. And because he also worked at another nearby mine before being laid off, he's only 10 days or so from being able to take the test for his black hat and better pay.

He still hasn't seen all the other miners in his crew, but he's called them and wished them well. He can only imagine what they went through, but, "I can probably see a little more of what happened because I know how it works."

He still has a lot to think about, and can't imagine getting any luckier.

As his boss, Fogle, puts it, "He drew the right card."

"I don't know how I got chosen for that one," Shaffer says.

"I have to thank Ozzy and [his] family, because if the events in their life weren't going on, my events would have been a lot different."

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