- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

SOMERSET, Pa. The nine coal miners who were rescued from a cramped, flooded shaft yesterday decided early in their 77-hour ordeal that they would "live or die as a group," tying themselves together so all their bodies would be found if they drowned.
They also scrawled last messages to loved ones as they huddled together to keep warm 240 feet below the surface of a rural area of western Pennsylvania that was thrust into the national spotlight when one of the planes hijacked September 11 by al Qaeda terrorists crashed there.
"I didn't think I was going to see my wife and kids again," a teary-eyed Harry B. Mayhugh told reporters, several hours after being pulled out of the Quecreek Mine, where the men were working.
He, his father-in-law and the seven others were stuck for more than three agonizing days, often in total darkness, after water from an abandoned, water-filled mine flooded the shaft. Authorities deployed a desperate rescue operation that included more than 150 workers, tons of heavy equipment and 18 medical helicopters.
The effort paid off when rescuers reached the miners yesterday morning and pulled them up a narrow shaft, one by one, in a yellow cylindrical capsule.
Though they were covered in coal dust and their heavy-duty clothes were soaked through, the miners emerged in surprisingly good physical condition.
"If you were to meet any of these guys on the street right now, you would not know that they were trapped in a cavern full of water for three days," said Dr. Russell Dumire, a trauma surgeon at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, where six of the men were taken.
All nine men had some symptoms of hypothermia, a cooling of the body temperature that can lead to irregular heartbeat and even death. The miners huddled around a pipe funneling down warm, pressurized air a move Dr. Dumire called "probably lifesaving."
One of the miners was placed in a decompression chamber after experiencing early symptoms of the bends, an excruciating condition caused by sudden changes in air pressure, Dr. Dumire said.
Two others, including Mr. Mayhugh's father-in-law, Thomas Foy, 51, were being kept for observation.
Mr. Foy told family members "he'll never go underground again," said his daughter Tonya Butler, 26.
"He's real good," Mrs. Butler said, but "he'd be a lot better home. He doesn't like hospitals. He doesn't like the green Jell-O."
Gov. Mark Schweiker met with six of the miners yesterday and said they were in "wonderful spirits."
The miners had two working lights but saved them for occasional forays into the shaft. Mr. Mayhugh, 31, said the men were "snuggling each other, laying up against each other, sitting back to back to each other, anything to produce body heat."
The miners, Dr. Dumire said, "decided early on they were either going to live or die as a group."
About noon on Thursday, Mr. Mayhugh asked his boss for a pen, when the water in the shaft was rising and the miners were running out of room. "I said, 'I want to write my wife and kids to tell them I love them,'" said Mr. Mayhugh, choking back tears.
At another point, Mr. Foy "tied us all together so we wouldn't float away from each other," Mr. Mayhugh said.
Then, at 10:16 p.m. Saturday, rescuers bored through the ceiling where the miners were trapped. The breakthrough let workers drop a telephone line to the miners and confirm they were alive.
One of the miners requested chewing tobacco. As a result, Conemaugh hospital got more chewing tobacco than it knew what to do with though doctors wouldn't immediately allow the miners to have it, or the beer that some requested, for fear of dehydration.
At the hospital, hunger overtook the miners, who "pretty much devoured anything that was put in front of them" doughnuts, sandwiches, soup and coffee, Dr. Dumire said.
David Hess, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, promised a joint federal-state investigation to help determine why underground maps appeared to show the abandoned Saxman Mine about 300 feet away from where the miners were working.
The first miner was pulled through the 26-inch-wide hole at 12:57 a.m. yesterday to the wild applause of rescuers, and he was placed on a stretcher. His comrades emerged in roughly 15-minute intervals, with the last one appearing at 2:44 a.m.
One had a bright smile on his blackened face as he surfaced, and some had chipped American flag decals on the sides of their helmets.
The first to come out, 43-year-old Randy Fogle, had reported feeling chest pains while still in the mine. Hospital officials said he has a history of heart problems and would remain in the hospital until at least today.
Though the miners had not been heard since Thursday because of the noise of rescue equipment, mining company spokesman John Weir said they "were tapping the whole time they were down there."
The rescue attempt transfixed the nation and the hilly, rural region since the miners became trapped about 9 p.m. Wednesday, when they inadvertently broke into the abandoned mine, sending a 4-foot wave of water crashing through the breached wall.
"We tried to outrun it, but it was too fast," Mr. Mayhugh said. The miners were able to warn a second crew, which escaped.
The trapped miners spent at least four or five hours in the water, at one point attempting to break through another wall to try to bring the water level down. Instead, the water rose, forcing them to swim in their heavy miners' clothes, Mr. Mayhugh said.
Drilling a rescue shaft to the men, who ranged in age from early 30s through early 50s, couldn't begin until more than 20 hours after the accident, when a drill rig arrived from West Virginia. Drilling was halted early Friday morning because a 1,500-pound drill bit broke after hitting rock about 100 feet down, delaying the effort by 18 hours.
"We thought maybe they couldn't find us or maybe it broke down. We thought maybe they gave up on us," Mr. Mayhugh said.
A second rescue shaft was started, and it wasn't until Saturday that measurable progress was being made on both shafts.
Mr. Mayhugh's wife, Leslie, said she prayed throughout the ordeal.
"I knew I couldn't lose my dad and my husband. I just knew it. It wasn't their day," she said.

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