- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

SOMERSET, Pa. (AP) The last time hundreds of rescue workers and news cameras descended on this rural county, it was after a hijacked jetliner crashed into the quiet countryside on a day the nation mourned in a way it never had before.
That made the jubilation yesterday following the rescue of nine coal miners from a watery underground pit even sweeter in a community that had already lived through one catastrophe and feared another was unfolding before its eyes.
"Once in a while, this world surprises you," said Rick Zahn, stopping by Sheetz gas station and convenience store for a doughnut and a cup of coffee on his way to a construction job yesterday.
"You think that that's just the way things go, and that tragedy is part of life," he said. "Something like this sure can change the way you look at things."
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller went from being a small-town funeral director and medical examiner to the caretaker of a national tragedy in the days and weeks after United Flight 93 slammed into a grassy field September 11.
The mine is just 10 miles from the spot where the plane crashed after the passengers fought an attempt by al Qaeda terrorists to hijack the plane and use it for a suicide mission. All 40 passengers and crew died.
Mr. Miller again found himself preparing for the worst the possibility of no survivors but he was jubilant about the happy outcome this time.
"Let me just say I'm sure glad we didn't have to work today," he said yesterday after the rescue. "You've got to know these miners; they're the toughest guys you'll ever see, I'll tell you that."
Mr. Miller's father, former County Coroner Wilbur Miller, said the men's chances of survival in water no warmer than 55 degrees would have been slim maybe six hours had hot air not been piped down into the chamber.
"To get that pipe drilled down close enough to those men, right there in the spot where they were, you'd have to say that is really a miracle," he said.
The emotions of the community were reflected in a sign outside a McDonald's restaurant, which read "Pray for the rescue of the miners" at the start of the ordeal but was changed by yesterday morning to "Welcome back miners! Nine alive."
About 200 yards from the mine site at the Christ Casebeer Lutheran Church, where some in the community went yesterday to offer prayers of thanks, a former miner said he understood the men's ordeal. Harold Ankeny of Somerset escaped a 1952 flood at a mine shaft in nearby Gray.
"I know what they were doing. I've been there," he said. "They were praying."

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