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Schweiker reports progress on Somerset mine rescue

Saturday, July 27, 2002

By Bill Heltzel, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

QUECREEK, Pa. -- Rescuers this morning estimated that they were within 60 feet of the chamber where nine coal miners are trapped.


Link to today's comprehensive report on the rescue efforts, including detailed graphics and a photo gallery.


The miners have been stranded in the flooded, darkened shaft for about 61 hours. They are 240 feet underground.

Gov. Mark Schweiker said rescue crews remain optimistic that the men are alive, but nobody above ground knows their status.

Schweiker met with relatives of the miners before speaking at a news conference this morning. He assessed their mood as cautious.

"They know the perils of mining. Therefore, they know the perils of what would be a history-making rescue attempt," he said.

Two rescue tunnels are being drilled down to reach the men. The second was started when the broken bit of a "super drill" halted progress yesterday on the initial escape tunnel.

As of this morning, both rescue chutes measured about 180 feet, leaving approximately 60 feet to go.

In addition to drilling, rescue teams are draining water from the mine. They had removed about 26 feet and hope to drain another four feet before the rescue mission culminates.

Schweiker said drillers will have to move more slowly as they approach the mine. Rescuers do not want to pierce a protective air bubble that may be keeping the men alive.

No clear signal from the miners had been heard since midday Thursday. Rescuers twice tried to listen for the men yesterday, but noise from rescue equipment made it too difficult to hear if the men were making tapping sounds or other noises.

Wilbert Foy, 47, whose brother, Thomas Foy, 51, and nephew-in-law, Blaine Mayhew were trapped below, remained confident.

"They'll pull all nine of them out, one by one," Foy said last night.

Mary Unger, 87, said her son, John, was among the trapped workers.

"He's my only son," she said. "It's awful. The waiting. It seems like things just keep going wrong."

Mine experts said that drilling, though slow, was still the best way to reach the men. They said sending divers through coal pillar catacombs flooded with debris-filled water was too dangerous.

The accident happened when the miners broke the wall of an abandoned mine that their maps showed to be farther away. As much as 60 million gallons of water rushed into the shaft where they were working.

Find complete coverage of today's developments in tomorrow's print edtions of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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