- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rescuers who helped pull victims out of the Sago and Aracoma mines said yesterday that they are still waiting to be interviewed by federal investigators who have not turned to them for insight into the January accidents.

Waiting to contribute to and learn more about the investigations has been difficult, the rescuers said during a visit to Capitol Hill that coincided with Senate hearings into mine safety.

“I would like to personally find out what their findings are,” mine rescuer Jim Klug said. “We’re just as curious as you are.”

The rescuers were vocal about their displeasure over federal rules that require mine-rescue teams to be within two hours from mines. They said teams should be much closer than that and should be assigned to specific mines, so they could be familiar with them during accidents.

It costs about $250,000 to train and equip a team, they said. Rescuer Harry Powell said it’s like insurance — companies don’t want to spend the money on it but “like it when they need it.”

The rescuers declined to talk about their experience inside the Sago and Aracoma Coal Alma No. 1 mines, citing the ongoing investigations into the January accidents in West Virginia. One person survived and 12 persons were killed at Sago, and two were killed in the fire at the Aracoma mine.

Sam Stavischeck said he has been a mine rescuer for 22 years, but nothing prepared him for the emotional aspects of the Sago rescue in which the victims were overcome by carbon-monoxide poisoning.

“Going to the Sago mine has been one of the roughest things I’ve ever done,” Mr. Stavischeck said.

United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith said he knew of no mine rescuers who had been interviewed to date.

Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said the agency’s “investigation into the Sago and Alma accidents are ongoing, and not all interviews have been completed yet.”

The rescuers are miners, and they say they live with the knowledge that they could end up as victims of accidents such as the ones in West Virginia.

“We do exactly the same things those guys did,” Mr. Stavischeck said.

The rescuers also complained about not having communications equipment that would allow them to talk to trapped miners.

Senate lawmakers questioned mine agency officials on why the government has not required stepped-up communications and safety equipment in mines during a hearing before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“We must harness the power of technology to improve mine safety,” said Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican.

The mine agency is reviewing new technology and is within days of issuing an emergency rule requiring additional oxygen packs be placed in mines and that improvements be made to escape routes, acting agency head David Dye said.

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