NPR logo Federal Officials Suspend Search for Utah Miners

Federal Officials Suspend Search for Utah Miners

Federal mine officials have suspended the search for the six miners trapped in a Utah coal mine since Aug. 6. For nearly four weeks, friends and family in central Utah held out hope that the men would be found alive.

The search for the six men was suspended Friday evening after a robotic camera dropped down a drill hole failed to provide any useful new information, said Rich Kulczewski, spokesman for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Mining officials told the families that the robotic camera was successfully dropped down the fourth of seven holes bored into the mountain, but that it quickly became stuck in the mud as it moved over piles of debris, Kulczewski said.

Kulczewski said the possibility of an eighth hole isn't being ruled out, but there are no immediate plans to drill one. Kulczewski said the rescue efforts are over.

"We don't really know where we could drill again at this time. That's not to say there might be another hole in the future — you never know. But at this time we're basically suspending the rescue operation," he said.

"It's just a difficult situation for the families, primarily. It's tough to say to them that we've basically run out of options," Kulczewski said.

Officials also could not retrieve the camera and had to leave it stuck about 50 feet from the surface, he said.

Miners Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez have not been heard from since Aug. 6, when a seismic occurrence caused ribs in the Crandall Canyon mine to explode, shooting out pieces of coal like bullets and filling underground tunnels with rubble.

It isn't known whether they survived. Three rescuers working underground were killed in a second collapse Aug. 16, another disaster that closed a separate way to reach the miners.

Colin King, an attorney serving as a spokesman for all six families, said the steadfast families had a difficult time with the news.

"There were tears," he said.

Federal safety officials have drilled a series of vertical bore holes into the mine in hopes of locating the six, but at each spot have found no signs of life and oxygen levels too low to sustain life.

Hole No. 7, drilled more than 1,800 feet through the mountain and into the mine Thursday, found nearly seven feet of debris. The drill bit emerged in an area called the "kitchen," where miners are trained to seek refuge during a collapse.

"It was very discouraging to them to hear about the kitchen area being filled with rubble," King said earlier Friday. "I think they're moving closer and closer to accepting the likelihood that they won't find anyone alive."

from The Associated Press and NPR reports.