Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2007

Utah mine will close; one last search effort to be made

August 23, 2007

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— Lashing out at criticism he was abandoning six trapped coal miners, the mine chief promised Wednesday to keep searching through the weekend and punch yet another hole into "this evil mountain."

Bob Murray, the face of the rescue effort since the Aug. 6 cave-in, dropped from public view for a time after three men died trying to tunnel toward the miners, but he said he's always been focused on finding the six - dead or alive.

"I didn't desert anybody," Murray, the mine's co-owner, told The Associated Press. "I've been living on this mountain every day, living in a little trailer."

A fifth borehole found only a 6-inch-deep void where it was drilled into the Crandall Canyon mine, federal officials said.

No noise was heard from the hole after a microphone was lowered and workers banged on the drill steel, said Jack Kuzar, a district manager for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

A video camera had not yet been put down the hole Wednesday night, nor had oxygen readings been measured, Kuzar said. Earlier boreholes have revealed no signs of life and little breathable air more than 1,500 feet underground, where the miners are believed to be trapped.

"We went through the total process: Silent period, put the mic down, hitting the pipe, waiting, hitting the pipe again," said Kuzar, filling in for MSHA head Richard Stickler at a news conference. Stickler was attending the funeral for mine safety inspector Gary Jensen, one of three rescuers killed while trying to find the trapped men.

Officials said a sixth exploratory hole 1,700 feet below ground would be drilled beginning today, officials said, and Kuzar said it will be in the area where the miners were last believed to have been working.

"This is the last hole," Murray said. "If we don't find anybody alive, there is nowhere else that anyone in MSHA or our company would know anywhere to drill."

Murray also said he would not resume mining in any part of the mine. MSHA must decide when the mine can be sealed after it completes its investigation, he said.

"I can tell you right now, we are not going back into that mountain," he said at a news conference Wednesday night.

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