Crandall Canyon underground search called off

ANY positive thoughts remaining at Utah’s Crandall Canyon where six have been trapped for 16 days were dashed after mine officials conceded the group may have been buried and federal officials called off further underground search efforts.

Donna Schmidt

“I don't know whether the miners will be found, but I'm not optimistic they will be found alive,” Robert Murray, founder of the operation’s part owner Murray Energy, said Monday night.

Mine Safety and Health Administration head Richard Stickler also said that it would be “unacceptable” for crews to continue their underground efforts to find the group of workers. After collaborating with eight experts, he said the agency found “overwhelming” proof that activity should not continue, specifically citing the unpredictability of the mountain and the instability of the pillars underground.

Murray also said Monday evening that crews on all sides of the effort have “not left a stone unturned” and will continue to hold out hope and move as rapidly as possible to find out the fate of the trapped six.

“There's still hope that we could find live trapped miners. It’s still a rescue effort. We're not giving up yet,” he said.

“We will continue to do everything ... possible to bring this to an end as soon as possible.”

According to various reports, Murray went back in front of the miners’ families Monday evening after a noticeable absence since last Thursday evening that left the group angry, accusing him of abandoning their loved ones. However, the meeting likely added to their already distraught outlooks, as he informed them personally that the trapped would likely remain buried.

“Their reception to me was probably not good,” he said. “But at some time, the reality must sink in, and I did it as compassionately as I possibly could.”

In the meantime, the sinking of a fifth vertical borehole into the mine to attempt once more to locate the group continues and is anticipated to be completed around 5am local time Wednesday. Until that time, it is likely that no updates will be available from federal and mine officials.

Also, as families continue to urge the commencement of a borehole large enough to drop a rescue capsule, similar to 2002’s Quecreek incident, Stickler said that would only occur if rescuers locate the workers using the next borehole and one or more is still alive.

“We believe the significant risk is unacceptable to send miners underground 1500, 1600 feet for the purpose of exploration,” he said Monday, adding that once the fifth hole is completed the group will review data before deciding on whether or not to sink a sixth.

Industry sends condolences following three rescuer deaths

After a seismic event late last week that killed three rescue workers, including an MSHA inspector who was contributing to the effort, industry groups have offered their sympathies, calling their work “heroic” and “a tragic loss” to the industry.

“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends and colleagues of the rescuers who were killed and those who were injured last night during the heroic efforts to save the lives of the trapped miners," said US Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.

“These brave men … made the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live.”

The National Mining Association concurred, issuing a statement by president Kraig Naasz.

“We extend our heartfelt thanks and support to all who have worked so tirelessly and selflessly at the mine over the … days and to those that continue on in this effort,” he said.

“We also thank the members of the local community who are giving comfort and support to family members and co-workers at the Crandall Canyon mine.

“Last [week’s] events are a great tragedy to all in the mining community. We remain committed to returning each and every miner home safely after each and every shift and will re-double our efforts to ensure we achieve this goal.”

Crandall Canyon to remain active

Murray Energy official Rob Moore said this week that, with more recoverable coal left at the 5000-acre mine in Huntington, Utah, that it anticipates resuming mining operations at some point, an announcement that has brought backlash from some in the industry. click here to read story.

One safety expert, in fact, told local newspaper the Deseret News Tuesday that he has significant doubts such plans could come to fruition for Crandall Canyon.

“I can say unequivocally that's inadvisable because of the pressures that have been exerted in that mine and the tragedy we've seen in the past two weeks,” said Jack Spadaro, a former MSHA director and current industry advisor.

“It would be inadvisable to go back in that mine and begin mining again."

Experts: Much to learn about regional hazards

According to a group of experts in interviews with International Longwall News, the inherent regional dangers – such as bumps and bursts at western mines – are not discussed enough and they urged the mining community to follow through on education through communication.

“I believe that we can certainly have more technical meetings and distribution of information about the problems and possible solutions,” said one educator.

“I would leave information handling up to the professionals in the rock mechanics community and the professional societies.”

Another said that research in the area will likely see resurgence in light of the “seismic events” occurring at Crandall Canyon.

“It will not be long before mines, even in the Appalachian region, are mining seams that are 1600 feet deep,” another education professional said.

“Maybe not in my lifetime, but the Pittsburgh coal will run out eventually and miners will go after the Freeport seam.

“We know how the rescuers at Crandall Canyon were recovering the bump zone and we know it didn’t work. This empirical information should be included in any computer simulation that is done.”

United States Mine Rescue Association representative Rob McGee said that safety is key no matter the location or the potential regional danger.

“Underground mining has been, is, and will always be dangerous, but controllable if sound and safe work practices are applied,” he said.

Keep watching International Longwall News for further updates on this story, including experts’ feedback on where they believe the mining community is regarding rescue protocol, technology and training standards, as well as public involvement and education.