- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

BARTON, Md. — Rescuers working to uncover two coal pit miners buried for more than two days said last night that they had reached one of the vehicles the men were operating.

The mechanical shovel that rescuers have been using for two days to remove debris is now being used to clear an area to allow a smaller piece of equipment to come in and gently remove rocks from the vehicle.

Bob Cornett, acting district manager for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said it likely will be a lengthy, delicate process. He said that if the cab is intact and someone is in it, they don’t want rescue efforts to cause it to fail.

Mr. Cornett did not know if the vehicle was upright, upside down or on its side.

He said early yesterday that he thinks the two vehicles were working side by side and that they would be found near each other.

Excavation equipment got stuck in the mud and explosives were used to dislodge boulders yesterday.

Three ambulances were moved into position at the top of the 150-foot “high wall” to quickly treat and transport any survivors, he said.

“We are getting prepared,” Mr. Cornett said. “We are trying to get everyone ready.”

A part of the wall collapsed Tuesday morning at the Tri-Star Mining open pit mine, about three miles from Barton, a town of 460 residents in Garrett County.

Engineers think the wall collapsed from the bottom, pushing the men and their vehicles to the outer edge of the pile as it buried them.

The first pass at the outer edge of the pile cut a path about 40 feet wide, Mr. Cornett said.

The closer workers get to the hillside that makes up the high wall, the greater the risk of another collapse that could bury the shovel and trucks removing as much as 30,000 tons of material hourly, he said.

Work was halted for about seven hours early yesterday morning to get the tracked shovel unstuck from the mud and use explosives to bring down boulders and dirt that threatened to fall from near the top of the wall.

Mr. Cornett said the shovel was stuck again for nearly an hour later in the morning.

MSHA has not identified the miners. Mr. Cornett said some family members were taken yesterday to view the scene about a mile from the Tri-Star office, where scores of relatives, friends and co-workers are gathered.

Immediate family members declined to speak with reporters but Mr. Cornett said, “They really appreciate the efforts and the prayers from everybody.”

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