HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) — If the six trapped miners are alive, they may be sitting in inky darkness, their headlamps having burned out. Wearing thin work clothes in the 58-degree cold, they could be chilled to the bone if water is seeping into their chamber 150 stories below ground.
How much air they might have is anyone’s guess.
Today, more than three days after the thunderous cave-in, a drilling rig on the mountain above the Crandall Canyon mine closed in on the men, trying to bore a hole a mere 2½ inches wide to bring them air and lower a two-way communications device and a tiny camera to check for signs of life.
“We may get no noise,” cautioned Bob Murray, part-owner of the mine. “They may be dead.”
The drilling rig was erected 1,869 feet above the presumed location of the men and had drilled down 1,530 feet by late morning. It was expected to punch through late in the afternoon, Murray said.
But he warned that things could go wrong, including equipment breakdowns and the possibility the drill was off target. “We may not come out in the mine where we want to be. We may come out in a solid pillar and have to start all over again,” Murray said.
Rescuers used a second drill to bore a second hole nearly 9 inches wide, but they had reached only 355 feet as of midday. The bigger hole could be used to lower more sophisticated cameras and provisions into the ground.
Simultaneously, rescuers struggled to clear rubble from a horizontal tunnel in an attempt to actually reach the miners and bring them out. But progress was slow at about 300 feet a day, and officials said it could take a week or more to break through to the miners.
The miners were working in an area with an 8-foot ceiling, and the corridors in the mine are typically about 14 feet wide, officials said.
“I’m sure their lights have died by now. I’m sure it’s pitch black,” said miner Robby Robertson, 27, of Orangeville, Utah, who worked in the mine several years ago. “Imagine the darkest place you’ve ever been.”
Murray, however, said that if the miners survived the cave-in itself, they would probably be spending most of the time in the dark to conserve their headlamp batteries, which are generally good for about 12 hours each.
“As soon as they realized they were trapped, it is very likely they went down to one light and very likely they went into total darkness a lot of the time and only used that light for the purpose of getting to the materials they need to ensure their survival,” Murray said. “It wouldn’t be bright. It would be like a very, very, large flashlight.”
Their other materials typically include a half-gallon of water each in coolers, he said.
Whether air is flowing into the chamber where they were working or is running out is not known. But officials had some reason for optimism, because there was no fire or explosion to consume oxygen or poison the air.
The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said each miner also should have had at least two emergency air packs, each of which supplies about an hour’s worth of oxygen. But whether the air packs were within reach is not known.