- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2007

HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) — Efforts to reach six coal miners trapped more than 1,500 feet underground will take at least three days, and rescuers weren’t even sure the men had survived the cave-in, one of the mine’s owners said today.

Crews worked through the night in shifts, with teams coming and going along the road leading to the Crandall Canyon mine in a forested canyon.

“Progress has been too slow, too slow,” said Robert E. Murray, chairman of Murray Energy Corp. of Cleveland, a part-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine.

If all goes well, it will still take three days to reach the chamber where the miners are believed to be, he said.

“At that point, we will know whether they’re alive or dead,” Mr. Murray said.

Even then, rescuers will have just a 2-inch hole into the chamber through which to communicate with the miners and provide them food or air, he said.

Crews moved just 310 feet closer to the miners in the first 30 hours after the cave-in, Mr. Murray said.

Attempts were halted overnight after a “bump” in which coal was dislodged from the mine’s ribs, said Al Davis, an official with the Federal Mine Safety Health Administration.

The trapped miners were believed to be in a chamber 3.4 miles inside the mine. Rescuers were able to reach a point about 1,700 feet from that point before being blocked by debris.

With no way to know whether the six were alive, crews worked through the night in shifts. Workers in hard hats came and went along a road leading to the mine in a forested canyon among mountains. Dozens of trucks and cars headed in near dawn.

“Right now I can’t say if it’s looking any better,” weary miner Leland Lobato said. “They’re doing what they can to keep everybody as fresh as possible so nobody gets tired.”

Several other miners emerged with blackened cheeks after an all-night shift.

Mr. Murray said 30 pieces of “massive” mining equipment were in place and 134 people were dedicated to the rescue.

He insisted that an earthquake caused the cave-in and angrily denied that a method called “retreat mining” was taking place at the time.

In that method, pillars of coal are used to hold up an area of the mine’s roof. When that area is completely mined, pillars are pulled to get access to useful coal, causing an intentional collapse. Experts say it is one of the most dangerous mining methods.

“The damage in the mine was totally unrelated to any retreat mining,” Mr. Murray said.