Trapped miners� families fighting mad

AS WORK on a fifth vertical borehole into Utah’s Crandall Canyon mine is sunk in hopes of finding six workers trapped for more than two weeks, the men’s families have secured a spokesperson and are blasting mine officials for their response.

Donna Schmidt

“Precious time is being squandered here, and we do not have time to spare," said the group’s spokesman, Sonny Olsen, in public comment Sunday evening local time.

“We feel that they've given up, and they're just waiting for these miners to expire.”

Their outrage that their loved ones are being left for dead stems partly from statements made by the mine’s part owner, Murray Energy, over the weekend.

“It’s likely these miners may not be found," operator representative Rob Moore said when asked if the workers would be found alive or not at all, and did not further elaborate.

The other side of their frustration lies in the size of the boreholes being drilled into the mountains over the mine. They are demanding that federal and mine officials drill a hole large enough to drop a rescue capsule, much like at Pennsylvania’s Quecreek mine five years ago.

“The families feel that the rescue capsule is the safest and most effective method to rescue their loved ones,” said Olsen.

“If rescue is not possible, the capsule is the only method to recover our loved ones so that they can have a proper burial.”

Some experts, however, have noted the extreme difference in overburden that would need to be tackled to do so, with a few hundred of feet to deal with in 2002’s rescue in Pennsylvania versus as much as 2000ft or more in the case of Crandall Canyon.

Missing Murray

The families are also upset about the absence of one very important individual involved in the situation – Murray Energy founder Robert Murray. He has not spoken publicly since Thursday evening (as of press time), and the group confirmed that he has not been in contact with them since that time, either.

“We feel that Bob Murray has abandoned us. Mr Murray has not been present since the tragic accident [on Thursday]," said Olsen.

“In the beginning, Bob Murray reassured the families with the promise that he would get the families' loved ones out dead or alive.

“It's time to live up to that promise and show the kind of resolve this community is used to.”

Moore confirmed that Murray had not made contact with the families of the missing miners since Thursday, as he has been attending to six injured that evening as well as the families of the three killed rescuers.

“We continue to sit and wait,” Olsen said on behalf of the trapped workers’ families. “We are at the mercy of the officials involved and their so-called experts.”

Work is still underway on the fifth borehole, which is estimated to be over 2000ft down by completion. Results from the fourth were not promising, with readings on oxygen levels ranging from just 11% to 12% – normal is about 21%.

Moore said Sunday he wasn’t holding out hope for the newest hole, either.

“Our thoughts and our prayers and our deepest sympathies go out to the families – for all those families involved in the two tragedies here,” he said.

Underground efforts also continue to be suspended as officials decide whether continued rescue efforts through tunnelling are feasible.

Mine accidents: management’s duties

With Murray and Moore being so highly involved with the daily occurrences at Crandall Canyon, along with the focus on ICG’s Ben Hatfield last year, it is evident that mine management officials prefer to stay close to the families, crews and media during an incident.

One expert noted that, following the string of high-profile incidents last year, the US Mine Safety and Health Administration opted to handle all publicity going forward. While that has been the case in part during Crandall Canyon, Murray’s place in the spotlight, where he has been noted by the general media to be outspoken and abrasive, may make the case in the future for more objective press representation.

“I know Bob Murray well,” said the expert. “It would be impossible for him to stay in the shadows anywhere, let alone at a mine he owned where a major rescue was in process.

“In my opinion, he should have left press and family briefings to MSHA. But I do know that Bob cared about what was happening.”

Another expert noted this is the very point that must be examined.

“It's their mine, so they must be involved. The extent of their involvement is the issue,” the industry person from the mine rescue sector said, noting that there will always be difficulty in keeping even the most opinionated officials from the microphone when their own mine is centre stage, regardless of future regulations and recommendations on the issue.

“In a recent news article, MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said the agency interprets the law to mean that MSHA is the primary, but not the only, source for the media and the families,” the expert added.

“It can't stop [Robert] Murray from holding news conferences or meeting with the miners' family members.”

Keep watching International Longwall News for further updates on this story, along with experts’ views on mine safety, regional dangers, and public involvement and perception towards the industry.