Mine Rescue Effort Indefinitely Suspended

Maria Lerma hugs her daughter Adilene as they wait to hear news about her husband, Natalio.

Maria Lerma hugs her daughter, Adilene, as they wait to hear news about her husband, Natalio, who was in the Crandall Canyon coal mine when it collapsed Thursday. Lerma reportedly escaped the mine without injury. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The underground effort to rescue six miners was indefinitely suspended Friday after a second cave-in killed three members of the rescue team that were tunneling toward the trapped men.

Richard Stickler, chief of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said a powerful underground explosion caused by internal pressure dislodged 30 feet of the right rib of the mine wall Thursday evening. The blast destroyed the ground supports that were put in place to protect rescue workers. Stickler said the continuing movement of the mountainside has made the underground rescue effort extremely dangerous.

"We have suspended indefinitely the underground portion of this effort," he said at a news conference.

Stickler said rescue crews would continue to drill holes from outside the mountain in an effort to locate the men. When the men are located, rescuers could also use the holes to send food and water to the men and pipe fresh air into the chamber.

Stickler also said the men could be raised from the mine shaft if ground level operations are successful. It is not known if the men are still alive. They have not been heard from since the collapse.

Thursday's cave-in occurred at about 6:35 p.m. MDT after a "mountain bump" caused an explosion of rock and coal because of the pressure put on support pillars as rescuers tried to tunnel toward the trapped men. Seismologists have said such a bumb is also what caused the initial cave-in in.

Three people were killed and six were injured in Thursday's cave-in. One MSHA employee was among the dead and one was among the injured, Sticker said.

Before Thursday's cave-in rescuers had only dug 826 feet in nine days — leaving another 1,200 feet to go to reach the area where the men are believed trapped. Officials had said conditions in the mine were treacherous, and they were frequently forced to halt digging because of seismic activity.

A spokesman at the University of Utah, where seismologists are watching the activity, said it appears that the mountain is "collapsing in slow motion."

It was not immediately clear where the dead and injured were working or what they were doing at the time of the second cave-in. Crews have been drilling holes from the top of the mountain to try to find the miners while others were tunneling through a debris-filled entry to the mine.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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