Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Only One Miner Survived Coal Mine Explosion Despite Earlier Reports of Multiple Survivors, 12 Miners Found Dead

TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. (Jan. 4) - Jubilant family members celebrated news early Wednesday that 12 miners were pulled alive from the scene of an underground explosion, only to learn nearly three hours later that they had been misled and just one miner actually survived. The chief executive of the mine blamed the stunning error on a misunderstood conversation overheard between rescuers and the command center overseeing rescue efforts. Families learned of the deaths from mine officials more than three hours after Gov. Joe Manchin said he had been told 12 of the miners survived the disaster. The sole survivor of the disaster was hospitalized, a doctor said. International Coal Group Chief Executive Officer Ben Hatfield told the families that only one miner, Randal McCloy, survived the explosion. Hatfield told the families gathered at the Sago Baptist Church that "there had been a lack of communication, that what we were told was wrong and that only one survived," said John Groves, whose brother Jerry Groves was one of the trapped miners. At that point, chaos broke out in the church and a fight started. Hatfield said the erroneous information spread rapidly when people overheard phone calls between rescuers and the rescue command center. In reality, rescuers had confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs, he said. "The initial report from the rescue team to the command center indicated multiple survivors," Hatfield said during a news conference. "That information spread like wildfire, because it had come from the command center. It quickly got out of control." Hatfield said the company waited to correct the information until it knew more about the rescue. On Tuesday, mine officials found extremely dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the part of the mine where the men where believed to have been. The odorless, colorless gas can be lethal at high doses. At lower levels, it can cause headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, fatigue and brain damage. Rescue crews found the body of a 13th miner earlier Tuesday evening and said they were holding out hope that the others were still alive, even as precious time continued to slip away. International Coal Group Inc. never confirmed that the 12 other men were alive. A relative at the church said a mine foreman called relatives there, saying the miners had been found. A few minutes after word came, the throng, several hundred strong, broke into a chorus of the hymn "How Great Thou Art," in a chilly, night air. There were hugs and tears among the crowd outside the Sago Baptist Church near the mine, about 100 miles northeast of Charleston. The miners had been trapped 260 feet below the surface of the mine since an explosion early Monday. The body was found about 700 feet from a mine car, and it appeared the employee was working on a beltline, which brings coal out of the mine, said Ben Hatfield, chief executive officer for ICG of Ashland, Ky. Michelle Mouser of Morgantown said her family believed the dead miner was her uncle, Terry Helms. The mine car was empty, which led rescuers to believe the others may have been safe somewhere else in the mine. Associated Press writers Vicki Smith, Jennifer C. Yates and Mark Williams in Tallmansville contributed to this report.

Source: http://aolsvc.news.aol.com/news/article.adp?id=20060102114609990005&ncid=NWS00010000000001

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