Rescuers Still Searching for Trapped West Virginia Miners

Family members and friends of 13 coal miners are holding out hope that their loved ones are alive after a Jan. 2 explosion rocked the Sago Mine near Buckhannon, W.Va., leaving the miners trapped several hundred feet beneath the ground.

There has been no communication with the miners, who are thought to be about 260 feet below the surface and nearly 2 miles from the opening of the mine shaft.

Six other miners managed to escape shortly after the explosion, which occurred around 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 2 during a thunderstorm, according to reports. The cause of the blast still is unknown, although there has been some speculation that a lightning strike may have ignited volatile gases in the mine.

Teams of rescuers have been working around the clock to find the trapped miners. Rescuers did not begin their search until about 11 hours after the explosion due to concerns over hazardous gases in the mine, according to reports.

Using the same equipment that was utilized in the July 2002 Quecreek Mine rescue operation, rescuers drilled down into the area where the miners were thought to be at the time of the explosion. When rescuers on the surface pounded on the drill to try to contact the miners, there was no response.

In another potentially ominous sign, an official from the Ashland, Ky.-based International Coal Group, which owns the Sago Mine, told the media this morning that the company was discouraged by air tests that revealed high levels of carbon monoxide in the mine.

However, the official said that views from a camera dropped through the drill hole revealed no survivors or barricades but also showed no significant damage to equipment that could be seen. He said the miners could have moved to another location.

MSHA Personnel Assisting in Rescue Efforts

Mine safety specialists and other mine rescue personnel from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) are working with West Virginia state mining officials and company personnel to try to rescue the 13 miners, according to the agency.

"All available MSHA mine rescue and mine safety specialists are either at the mine or en route to assist in the rescue," David Dye, acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said late Jan. 2. "MSHA is using its mine emergency operations group and equipment to lead this rescue attempt, and, along with mine company officials, look to develop a safe plan for rescue of the miners as quick as humanly possible."

This morning, the agency sent its rescue robot into the mine. The robotic vehicle, which can travel up to 5,000 feet into the mine, is equipped with navigation and surveillance cameras, gas detection equipment, lighting and a manipulator arm.

Sago Mine's Injury Rate Nearly Triple the National Rate

MSHA last year issued 208 citations, orders and safeguards and $24,155 in fines to the Sago Mine, according to the agency's Web site. In 2004, the agency issued the mine 68 citations and orders totaling $9,515 in fines.

The mine's lost-time injury rate in 2005 was 17.04, compared to a national rate of 6.54 for underground mines, according to MSHA.

Since 2000, there have been 42 lost-time injuries at the mine but no fatalities since at least 1995, according to MSHA.

International Coal Group, which produces coal from 12 mining complexes in Kentucky, Maryland and West Virginia, purchased the Sago Mine from Anker Coal Group Inc. last year. According to MSHA, Anker took ownership of the mine on Jan. 11, 2002.

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