Families of the six men trapped for two weeks in a coal mine in central Utah expressed their frustration with efforts to retrieve the miners after officials said the men may never be found.
"We feel that they've given up and that they're just waiting for the six miners to expire," said Sonny Olsen, a spokesman for the families, reading from a prepared statement Sunday night.
About 70 relatives of the trapped miners were with Olsen. They want the men plucked from the mine even if they are dead in order to give them proper burial.
Repeated efforts to signal the men have been met with silence, and air readings have indicated insufficient oxygen to support life.
Oxygen levels were just 11 percent to 12 percent — incompatible with life. Normal oxygen levels are 21 percent.
"It's likely these miners may not be found," Murray Energy Corp. Vice President Rob Moore said Sunday.
Murray Energy co-owns the Crandall Canyon mine in Huntington, Utah.
Mine officials had sustained hope for two weeks that the miners would be brought out alive, even after three rescuers were killed and six more hurt in another "bump" inside the mountain Thursday.
The initial collapse occurred Aug. 6.
The families demanded that rescuers immediately begin drilling a 30-inch hole into which a rescue capsule could be lowered. Olsen said the families believe it is "the safest and most effective method to rescue their loved ones."
"If rescue is not possible," he added, "the capsule is the only method to recover our loved ones so that they can have a proper burial."
Christopher Van Bever, an attorney for Murray Energy, said the company had no immediate response to the families' statement. A spokesman for the federal Mining Safety and Health Administration did not return a call seeking comment.
A rescue capsule was used in 2002 to pluck nine trapped miners from the flooded Quecreek mine in western Pennsylvania. But those miners were only about 230 feet below the surface, and the drilling took place on a gently rolling dairy farm.
Rescue workers in that case heard tapping sounds hours after the miners became trapped, indicating at least some of them were alive. The whole ordeal was over in three days.
At Crandall Canyon, there has been little evidence that the six miners survived the initial Aug. 6, collapse.
Four boreholes have given workers limited access to the mine, allowing them to lower video cameras and microphones, but they've found no signs of life.
Engineering experts from around the nation gathered at the mine Sunday to try to figure out a safe way of reaching the missing men. Underground tunneling has been halted since Thursday's deaths, and Moore expressed doubt that the tunneling effort would resume.
No support system can withstand the unpredictable and explosive force of a mountain bump, according to Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mining Safety and Health Administration. Once a coal pillar collapses, it can set off a chain reaction of collapses as the weight that the original pillar held is transferred.
Workers started Sunday on a fifth borehole into the mountain, more than 2,000 feet down, but Moore said he expected to find insufficient air there, too.
"Our thoughts and our prayers and our deepest sympathies go out to the families — for all those families involved in the two tragedies here," he added.
In communities near the mine, residents have organized fundraisers — a dance, a barbecue, arts festival, and car washes — to help support the families of the trapped miners.
If efforts to retrieve the men don't restart, they will remain entombed in the mine.
Despite that, Moore said the company expects to resume operations at some point — there is recoverable coal in other parts of the 5,000-acre mine. He said he didn't discuss that prospect with family members.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press