- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 28, 2002

SOMERSET, Pa. All nine miners trapped for three days in a flooded underground mine have been found alive, state officials said late yesterday.
"All nine are alive," Gov. Mark Schweiker told reporters at the scene. "We believe all nine are in pretty good shape They're eager to come up."
The Sipesville Fire Hall, where the families had been gathering, erupted in celebration. Families cried and hugged and many were in the street with hands in the air.
"Wow. Wow. Wow. It's just unbelievable," said mine worker Lou Lepley, who has been staffing the mine entrance for three days. "I have no words."
Rescuers were seen hugging and giving the thumbs-up sign soon after dropping the telephone into the shaft 240 feet below.
A mud-caked rescue worker could be heard shouting: "They're all down there. They're waiting to come up. There's nine of them. We talked to them on the telephone."
After three days of desperate drilling, rescue workers broke through last night into the dark and cramped chamber and were able to make contact with some of the trapped men.
Mr. Schweiker cautioned that there was still much work to be done overnight. The next step was to lower a rescue capsule down a 26-inch-wide rescue shaft that broke through into the cavity where the men are trapped.
The drillers' breakthrough into the mine cavity came at about 10:16 p.m., and workers quickly set about removing the drill and preparing the shaft for a rescue capsule.
The miners had been huddled together in the chamber 240 feet underground in the Quecreek Mine since 9 p.m. Wednesday.
The drillers had to be cautious in working toward the miners from fear of compromising a hollowed-out section of coal seam believed to be about 4 feet high, which may be partially flooded.
Even though there had been no contact with the miners since Thursday, when tapping was heard on an air hole, workers remained optimistic they were alive.
The miners' families, encamped nearby, could only hope they were right, but they were eventually vindicated.
One unidentified local woman at the site called the rescue of the nine trapped men a "miracle" and told CNN that "God was with them. He was the 10th person down there."
David Hess, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, earlier had said, "the best-case scenario is that when we pull the drill bit out we hear hollering."
A capsule will be sent into the mine to retrieve the men one or two at a time. Mr. Schweiker had said rescuers would decide how to enter the protective air pocket where the men were believed to be.
Officials said it was expected to take time perhaps hours for workers to ready the machinery that would lower the people who would bring up the miners.
Helicopters were readied to whisk miners from the scene 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh to hospitals, and medical personnel were set to immediately treat injuries or hypothermia.
Nine decompression chambers were also placed at the scene. Medical personnel said the air pressure on the miners could be as much as is experienced at 40 feet underwater and that the men could suffer the bends bubbles in the bloodstream caused by rapid changes in pressure once they were rescued. An airlock was on site to keep the rescue shaft pressurized if necessary.
Air was being pumped into the chamber at a temperature of more than 100 degrees in the hope that it would warm the men.
Mr. Schweiker also reported slowed progress in draining water from the mine, with less than a foot to go before the 30 feet necessary to give the trapped men more room and ensure the pressure wouldn't cause water to rise when the drills finally punched through.
When that happened, a cap was to be placed over the rescue shaft at the surface to ensure the chamber remained pressurized.
Mr. Schweiker said yesterday morning that families of the trapped miners were encouraged after a frustrating day of drilling Friday when he showed them a handful of limestone from a depth of 150 feet.
"That served to buoy their spirits," the governor said.
The accident occurred at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, when the miners broke the wall of an abandoned mine that maps showed to be 300 feet farther away. As much as 60 million gallons of water rushed into the shaft where they were working.
The miners were able to warn a second crew, which escaped.
The rescue attempt has transfixed the region a hilly, rural area long dependent on coal and that suffered tragedy during the September 11 terrorist attacks. The 40 passengers and crew on Flight 93 died when it was taken over by hijackers and crashed near Shanksville, about 10 miles from the mine.
Mr. Schweiker said family members of Flight 93 victims sent an e-mail message to the families of the miners.


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