- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007

HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) A microphone lowered yesterday into a fourth hole drilled into a collapsed coal mine indicated nothing of the six men trapped for nearly two weeks, another blow in a rescue effort that has killed three other persons.

“We did not detect any signals from miners underground,” said Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

With tunneling halted, officials had hoped a fourth hole drilled into the mine would finally offer clues to whether the men were alive 1,500 feet below the surface.

Mr. Stickler said a fifth hole was planned.

Rescuers stopped tunneling through a collapsed mine passageway after three among their ranks were killed and six others injured by coal sent flying by a mountain “bump,” or shift in rock layers. That left the focus on a drill crew boring through nearly 1,600 feet of rock to reach an area of the mine where the missing men might have retreated.

Workers broke through yesterday afternoon, hoping for a sign of the men who have been missing since the Aug. 6 cave-in at the Crandall Canyon mine.

“We’ve had no problem. We got through sooner than we expected,” said Richard Kulczewski, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rescuers sent signals down the 8½-inch-wide hole — rapping on the steel drill bit in hopes the miners would respond. If the men were foundalive, the hole could be used to deliver food and water to them.

But even if rescuers had found signs of life, it would take weeks to lift the men them out.

Crews would have to drill a much larger, 30-inch hole and lower a metal rescue capsule, the same method used in 2002 to pluck nine trapped miners from the flooded Quecreek mine in western Pennsylvania. But there are key differences between Quecreek and Crandall Canyon that would make the effort far more complicated.

At Quecreek, rescue workers heard tapping sounds only 6½ hours after the miners became trapped, indicating at least some of them were alive. Work began on the rescue shaft later that day, and the whole ordeal was over in 77 hours. It has been nearly two weeks since the cave-in at Crandall Canyon, with no sign of the missing men.

The miners in Pennsylvania were only about 230 feet below the surface, and the drilling took place on a gently rolling dairy farm. The Utah miners are thought to be more than 1,500 feet beneath the surface, with drillers having to work atop a steep sandstone cliff.