Utah Mine Rescue Tests Hope

Rescuers at work for a week since six miners were trapped in a coal mine collapse in Utah still don't know the location or condition of the men. That is challenging the sense of hope in Huntington, Utah. They are set to drill a third hole into the mine.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay. Now let's go to that mine collapse in Utah.

Rescuers still do not know the location or the condition of six trapped men. They drilled two small holes into the mine, dropping a microphone into one and a video camera into the other, but detected no signs of life.

And that's challenging the sense of hope in Huntington, Utah, as NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES: Here at the Canyon View School, where the families of the missing miners gather, hope is a word spelled out in yellow plastic cups jammed into the links of a fence. It's also a raw if elusive emotion these days, especially in the wake of discouraging news.

Jose Sandoval Sanchez's cousin Manuel is one of the missing miners. And he described the family's reaction to the latest news.

Mr. JOSE SANDOVAL SANCHEZ (Relative of a Trapped Miner): Ups and downs, grief and loss, patience, frustrated, but there's so many of us together as a family that, you know, we're doing okay.

BERKES: Sanchez spoke after officials describe their second failed attempt to find any signs of the miners. They revealed a third effort: another hole to be drilled hundreds of feet down from the surface into a mineshaft along a possible escape route. That will take three to six days to finish. Mine rescue teams are also trying to tunnel through the collapsed shaft where the trapped miners were working. They've been doing that a week and are only a third of the distance to the men. It would seem that hope would be fading.

(Soundbite of church service)

BERKES: Hope seemed distant in the faces of the families of two of the missing miners who sat in the front row Sunday at a Catholic Mass. They held heads in their hands before the service began. And they were addressed by Father Hope - Father Donald Hope - who spoke about them later.

Father DONALD HOPE (Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish): Sometimes now, you know, you have a good day and a bad day. But as news comes out, their ability to remain upbeat, it's harder because there has been so little good news.

BERKES: None of the family members spoke with reporters at the church, but Filomena Lee(ph) did. She comes from a family of miners, knows one of the trapped men, and describes what she sees in the faces of the family.

Ms. FILOMENA LEE: They are so devastated. You know, they want to think that they're alive, but every day just that passes just seems a little bit worse.

BERKES: At the rescue effort's command post, as trucks loaded with rescue equipment drove up, federal and mining company officials brief reporters. They interchangeably call their mission a rescue and a recovery. The living are rescued, the dead are recovered.

Richard Stickler is the chief of mine safety for the federal government.

Mr. RICHARD STICKLER (Mine Safety and Health Administration): We always have to have hope. And it would be a terrible mistake to ever give up hope until you know for sure.

BERKES: And here's Robert Murray, the owner of the Crandall Canyon mine.

Mr. ROBERT MURRAY (CEO, Murray Energy Corporation): This is a rescue mission and we're proceeding as if the men are alive. And we will continue to do that until we have absolute proof as to their condition.

BERKES: Back here at the Canyon View School, the grown children of missing miner Kerry Allred express hope in a sacrificial way. They've been spending their nights sleeping on the floor of the school so they would experience some of the discomfort they believe their father must feel.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Huntington, Utah.

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Rescuers Drill Third Hole for Trapped Utah Miners

Family members of some of the six coal miners trapped in Crandall Canyon coal mine attend mass. i i

hide captionFamily members of some of the six coal miners still trapped beneath the surface at the nearby Crandall Canyon coal mine attend an English/Spanish mass at Mission San Rafael Catholic church August 12, 2007 near Huntington, Utah. Father Donald Hope encouraged the families of the largely Latino congregation to continue to pray.

David McNew/Getty Images
Family members of some of the six coal miners trapped in Crandall Canyon coal mine attend mass.

Family members of some of the six coal miners still trapped beneath the surface at the nearby Crandall Canyon coal mine attend an English/Spanish mass at Mission San Rafael Catholic church August 12, 2007 near Huntington, Utah. Father Donald Hope encouraged the families of the largely Latino congregation to continue to pray.

David McNew/Getty Images
Workers prepare metal casings for 8 5/8 inch drill rig outside the Crandall Canyon Mine. i i

hide captionWorkers prepare metal casings for 8 5/8 inch drill rig outside the Crandall Canyon Mine where rescue miners are trying to reach six trapped coal miners on August 11, 2007, near Huntington, Utah.

Kyle Ekker-Pool/Getty Images
Workers prepare metal casings for 8 5/8 inch drill rig outside the Crandall Canyon Mine.

Workers prepare metal casings for 8 5/8 inch drill rig outside the Crandall Canyon Mine where rescue miners are trying to reach six trapped coal miners on August 11, 2007, near Huntington, Utah.

Kyle Ekker-Pool/Getty Images

Rescuers in Utah hoped to make progress Monday on a third hole they want to drill into the Crandall Canyon coal mine near Huntington, Utah, where six miners were trapped a week ago.

Discouraging video images, meanwhile, showed no signs of life as the search for the miners stretched into a second week.

Bob Murray, head of Murray Energy Corp. and co-owner of the mine, said there was still reason to believe the miners could be alive because the mine's roof was intact, and there was open space and drinkable water.

"There are many reason to have hope still," Murray said.

Jose Sandoval Sanchez's cousin, Manuel, is one of the missing miners. He described the family's reaction to the latest news as "ups and downs; grief and loss," patience and frustration.

"But there's so many of us together as a family that we're doing OK," he told NPR, after officials described their second failed attempt to find any sign of the miners.

The first hole was a 2 1/2 inch wide hole that rescue crews believe drifted during the drilling process into a neighboring sealed chamber. A microphone dropped into that first hole heard no sign of the miners and air samples recorded an atmosphere of only 7 percent oxygen — measurements similar to those known to exist in a sealed area of the mine and an oxygen level that would not sustain life.

The second hole measuring nearly 9 inches allowed crews to lower a camera into a cavern that officials said showed a "survivable space." But images were limited and the camera was withdrawn to clear off one lens.

A third effort would send another hole hundreds of feet down from the surface into a mine shaft along a possible escape route. That will take three to six days to finish.

Meanwhile, mine rescue teams were also trying to tunnel through the collapsed shaft where the trapped miners were working. After a week of trying, they are only a third of the distance to the men.

The cause of the collapse has not been established.

Bob Murray, head of Murray Energy Corp. and co-owner of the mine, has insisted it was caused by an earthquake but seismologists say there was no earthquake and that readings on seismometers actually came from the collapse.

Hope seemed distant in the faces of the families of two of the missing miners, who sat in the front row Sunday at a Catholic mass as Father Donald Hope spoke about them.

"Sometimes you have a good day and a bad day," Father Hope said. "But, as news comes out, their ability to remain upbeat is harder because there has been so little good news."

None of the family members spoke with reporters at the church.

But Filomena Lee, who comes from a family of miners, knows one of the trapped men and describes what she sees in the faces of the families: "They are so devastated. You know they want to reach out and think they're alive. But every day that passes just seems a little bit worse."

At the rescue effort's command post federal and mining company officials interchangeably called their mission a rescue and a recovery.

"We always have to have hope, and it would be a terrible mistake to ever give up hope before you know for sure," said Richard Stickler, chief of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Murray is adamant that it is a rescue mission.

"We're proceeding as if the men are alive and we will continue to do that until we have absolute proof as to their condition," Murray said.

With additional reporting from The Associated Press

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