- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

PHILIPPI, W.Va. (AP) — In the darkness of the Sago Mine, one of a dozen trapped coal miners scrawled a timeline detailing how he was alive but losing air at least 10 hours after an underground explosion, his daughter said yesterday .

“Each time he documented, you could tell it was getting worse,” Ann Merideth told the Associated Press of the note written by her father, 61-year-old shuttle car operator Jim Bennett. “Later on down the note, he said that it was getting dark. It was getting smoky. They were losing air.”

If he was lucid enough to be writing 10 hours after the blast, he could have been saved — but the rescue operation didn’t move fast enough, Miss Merideth said.

The first rescuers didn’t go into the mine until 11 hours after the blast, a lag officials said was necessary to clear the mine of high concentrations of poisonous gases.

“I’m not sure how many miners went and was able to live as long as my father had, which I’m sure most of them did, and it really bothers me because it took them so long,” Miss Merideth said.

Ben Hatfield, chief executive officer of the company that operates the mine, International Coal Group Inc., said yesterday that rescuers had to follow state and federal laws that require a methodical approach to avoid rescuers getting trapped, injured or killed themselves.

“It is painful, and it’s slow, and it was maddening as we were all just doing our level best as we were attempting to get there,” Mr. Hatfield told the AP.

Bob Friend, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s acting deputy assistant secretary of labor, echoed his words, saying a primary concern in such a rescue operation is the safety of the rescue teams.

Monday’s explosion killed one miner immediately. Eleven others were found huddled two miles inside the mine behind a plastic curtain they had erected to keep out deadly carbon monoxide.

The lone survivor, Randal McCloy Jr., 26, showed dramatic improvement yesterday and was stable enough that he was flown back to a hospital closer to his home, doctors said.

Mr. McCloy has been in a medically induced coma to allow his brain time to heal, but when the medication is eased, his eyes flicker and he bites down on his breathing tube, showing he is “awake underneath our coma,” said Dr. Richard Shannon of Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Last night, still heavily sedated, Mr. McCloy was strapped to a gurney and loaded into a helicopter for the short flight back to West Virginia University’s Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. Four medical technicians accompanied him.

Miss Merideth said her father’s note, given to the family Friday by the medical examiner, has three or four entries, the first at 11:40 a.m. Monday, about five hours after the blast, and the final entry, with words getting fainter and trailing off the page, at 4:25 p.m., nearly 10 hours after the blast.

The first visitations for the miners began yesterday, with their funerals scheduled today through Tuesday.

Gov. Joe Manchin III spent about an hour at a funeral home with the family of Jerry Lee Groves, 56. Mr. Manchin presented relatives with a memorial proclamation from the state and hugged Mr. Groves’ mother, Wanda.

Back at the mine, 12 large black bows were tied around the entrance’s fence.

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