- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) The Pennsylvania mine where nine men were trapped underground for days this summer was wet and getting wetter even before the accident that flooded it, and the mining company knew it, one survivor testified yesterday.
A mining company representative disputed that account during the special congressional hearing yesterday. Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman at the hearing, said he was troubled by the conflicting testimony.
"I think there is evidence that the mining company had reason to know that the encroachment was likely," Mr. Specter said during the hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
The nine men became trapped July 24 when they drilled into an abandoned mine, sending millions of gallons rushing into the adjacent mine they were working. They were pulled from the mine after a desperate 77-hour rescue effort that drew national attention.
Miner Ronald Hileman, one of the nine men, said at the congressional hearing that crew leader Randy Fogle had talked about the mine's condition with their mining outfit, Black Wolf Coal Co., twice before the accident.
The dampness was an indication of the pending danger posed by a the flooded, abandoned mine nearby, Mr. Hileman said.
"The mine was very wet from the very beginning," He said. "The company knew the water conditions." He said Mr. Fogle recounted his discussions with Black Wolf Coal while the men were trapped.
But Mr. Fogle was not at the hearing, and Black Wolf Coal's president disputed the account.
"There was not significant leakage of water into the Black Wolf mine," Dave Rebuck said. He said that Mr. Fogle did not tell him of any concerns, and that he was not aware of any problems with excessive water.
Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, both of which are investigating the accident, said they had not been told about Mr. Fogle's assertions.
David Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for the federal agency, said that the first time he heard of the miners' concerns about water was in a recent newspaper article. None of the miners told federal investigators about the damp mine when they were interviewed, he said.
Mr. Fogle did not return phone calls from the Associated Press.
The Senate hearing is one of several investigations into the accident. State and federal mining officials are both investigating it, and state Attorney General Mike Fisher is looking into possible criminal wrongdoing.

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