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Veteran Miner Boosts Families' Hopes for Survival

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Veteran Miner Boosts Families' Hopes for Survival

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Veteran Miner Boosts Families' Hopes for Survival

Veteran Miner Boosts Families' Hopes for Survival

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12785586/12785587" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Chanel Chavez holds a candle during a vigil for six miners trapped in a Utah coal mine. Jenny Brundin, NPR hide caption

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Jenny Brundin, NPR

Chanel Chavez holds a candle during a vigil for six miners trapped in a Utah coal mine.

Jenny Brundin, NPR

Miner John Erickson (left) stands with his coal mining partner Jeremy Christensen. Erickson says that experienced miner Kerry Alred likely would help calm the younger miners. Jenny Brundin, NPR hide caption

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Jenny Brundin, NPR

Miner John Erickson (left) stands with his coal mining partner Jeremy Christensen. Erickson says that experienced miner Kerry Alred likely would help calm the younger miners.

Jenny Brundin, NPR

It has been a long nine days for the people in coal-mining towns near Crandall Canyon, Utah, where six miners are trapped underground. With each passing day, residents of these close-knit communities are struggling to stay optimistic. They say that if by some chance the men are alive, the experience and humor of one man in particular will be crucial.

Coal miner Kerry Alred is one of the six miners trapped underground. Many residents of Huntington, Utah, are pinning their hopes on Alred's wit and wisdom to help the younger miners through the ordeal.

Just about everyone in this town seems to know Alred, an old-time, experienced miner.

"They called him Flash, but I changed it to Flasher," laughs his friend and fellow miner Sam Bramel.

"From all the time I've spent with him," Bramel says, "I suspect he's [saying] 'Well, where are them dummies? I'm getting tired of waiting on them!'"

Filomena Lee, a brunette whose mine crew nicknamed her "Lucy," worked with Alred at the mines, too. She recalls being scared when she first went underground, but Alred's eyes were steady and reassuring.

"On a crew, he would keep you laughing, keep you happy, and keep it all smooth," Lee says.

Joking and good-natured teasing is part of mining culture — you hear that again and again from miners and their families in these towns. Coal miner John Erickson's nickname is "Woodstock" because of the music he likes.

"That's your family down there and it's just like any other family. They'll ride you forever for this and that; it makes the job fun and enjoyable sometimes and it does make it easier on you mentally, 'cause it is a stressful deal," Erickson says.

He says that a gregarious miner like Alred would likely be a huge help to a fellow trapped miner like Brandon Phillips, a 24-year-old who has been on the job only two weeks.

"Two weeks underground, you don't even get your bearings at that point," Erickson says. "I'm sure he's definitely had to maybe just put his arm around the kid and ... try to explain things through to him."

Only privately, and after you know them awhile, the coal miners will tell you they suspect the trapped men are dead. But publicly, they say their hope will be gone only when the "brass tags" are found. Every coal miner has one fastened onto their belts. It has the miner's Social Security number and name, and is often the only thing left that's recognizable.