Rescuers vow to keep digging

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HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) A tiny microphone lowered deep into the earth early today picked up no evidence that six coal miners are alive four days after they were caught in a cave-in. But an air sample indicated enough oxygen to breathe was present in the chamber where the miners are believed to be trapped, and rescuers promised to keep digging toward them.

Using a steel drill bit to bore a 2 & 1/2-inch wide hole more than 1,800 feet into the mountain site of Monday’s cave-in, rescuers finally broke through late Thursday. Though a crude air sample indicated plenty of oxygen and no methane in the pocket, it also did not pick up carbon dioxide, the gas exhaled when people breathe.

Despite the silence, company officials remained hopeful.

“I wouldn’t look at it as good or bad news. The work is not done,” said Bob Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp., who added early Friday that oxygen levels suggested that if the men survived the collapse, “they’re going to stay alive in that atmosphere.”

Residents of the local mining community also sought to stay positive.

“We can’t give up hope. We can’t accept anything except them coming home,” City Councilwoman Julie Jones said.

The air sample was sucked from the cavity through a steel tube, with a microphone attached to pick up any signs of life.

The drill bit finally broke through at 9:47 p.m. MDT on Thursday, more than two days after drilling began. Two hours later, Murray and officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration said there was no immediate response after the drill reached the pocket.

Meanwhile, drilling continued on a second, wider hole, which could accommodate a powerful camera to provide a view inside the pocket, deliver food and water, and hopefully give a more definitive answer about the miners’ fate.

Richard Stickler, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said there was a chance the smaller hole could collapse, so rescuers were leaving the steel pipe and microphone where they were and did not plan on sending down a camera until drilling the nearly 9-inch hole reached the chamber.

The second hole was about 1,000 feet deep just before sunrise Friday, Stickler said, leaving more than 800 feet to go. Stickler said that drilling could be finished by Friday night.

Work also continued in the mine itself, where rescuers were slowly burrowing through the debris to reach the workers.

“It’s incredibly labor-intensive,” said Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy.

Relatives shouldn’t be discouraged by the lack of carbon dioxide, a lawyer for the company said.

“What you got was a quick sample from a crude instrument, so you don’t get all the constituents reported,” said attorney Christopher Van Bever.

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