Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Utah mine search goes deeper

HUNTINGTON, Utah — With the drilling of another hole, the search for six missing miners moved Tuesday toward the back of a mine where officials hoped the men sought refuge in search of an air pocket.

Crews already have drilled two holes and fitted a camera down one of them, but they have yet to learn the coal miners' fate, eight days after the mine partly collapsed under the weight of a shifting mountain.

The camera's ghostly images revealed only one indication of a miner's presence: a tool bag for hammers, wrenches and chisels hanging from a post, 3.4 miles from the entrance and more than 1,800 feet underground.

"It indicates we're very close to where the miners were working," said Bob Murray, chief of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner and operator of the Crandall Canyon mine.

The collapse of the mine's midsection was thought to have pushed ventilated air into a pocket at the rear of the mine, where the miners may have fled when their escape routes were cut off by rubble, said Richard Stickler, chief of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The thunderous collapse blew out the walls of mine shafts but left reinforced ceilings mostly intact. About 5 feet of headroom remained in the deeper mine shafts.

"We see a lot of open area. We see good height. Space is what they need and we saw a lot of space," said Al Davis, who heads up MSHA's Western operations.

Other video images taken Sunday showed a twisted conveyer belt, pipes and dripping water.

As crews started drilling a nearly 9-inch-wide camera hole late Monday, Murray said the pace of rescue efforts picked up inside the mine, where heavy machinery was clawing at loose rubble that nearly fills a main passageway.

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