W.Va. Mine Rescuers Driven Back By Fire as Hope Fades

Rescuers searching for four missing miners trapped in the Upper Big Branch South coal mine in Whitesville, W.Va., were forced to retreat early April 9 because of smoke from what appears to be an active fire deep in the mine. Before turning back, rescuers were able to get close enough to one of two emergency chambers to determine that it had not been used.

The plan now is to bore holes into the mine and pump nitrogen into the area where the fire is burning, depriving it of oxygen and putting it out. Rescuers also are boring a hole above the second emergency chamber, hoping that they will be able to drop a camera through the hole to determine if the second chamber had been deployed, indicating that one or more of the miners reached it. Each chamber contains enough food, water and oxygen to support 15 miners for 4 days. They are deployed much like a life jacket; you pull the cords and the structure – which contains the supplies – inflates.

"If [it’s] deployed, more than likely someone's in [it]," said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin. "That means we have a chance of that miracle. If they're not deployed, we know that our chances are diminished tremendously."

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