HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP)
A disastrous cave-in killed three rescue workers and injured at least six others who were trying to tunnel through rubble to reach trapped miners, authorities said. Mining officials were considering whether to suspend the rescue effort.
It was a shocking setback on Thursday, the 11th day of the effort to find six miners who have been confined at least 1,500 feet (450 meters) below ground at the Crandall Canyon mine. It was unknown if the six were alive or dead.
Six of the injured were taken to Castleview Hospital in Price. One died there, one was airlifted to a Salt Lake City hospital, one was released and three were being treated, said Jeff Manley, the hospital’s chief executive.
The second dead worker passed away at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, said hospital spokeswoman Janet Frank. Another worker there was in critical condition with head trauma but was alert, she said.
The third death was confirmed by Rich Kulczewski, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor, but additional details were not immediately available.
No official cause of death has been given for any of the deaths.
Authorities said the cave-in was caused by a mountain bump, which commonly refers to pressure inside the mine that shoots coal from the walls with great force. Seismologists say such an event caused the Aug. 6 cave-in that trapped six men inside the central Utah mine.
Thursday’s bump at 8:39 p.m. (0039 GMT Friday) showed up as a magnitude 1.6 seismic event at University of Utah seismograph stations in Salt Lake City, said university spokesman Lee Siegel.
Family members of miners, many in tears, gathered at the mine’s front entrance looking for news.
A mine employee, Donnie Leonard, said he was outside the mine when he heard a manager “yelling about a cave-in.”
A woman who answered the phone at the mine said mine co-owner Bob Murray, chief of Murray Energy Corp., was not available for comment.
It was not immediately clear where those who were injured were working or what they were doing when they were hurt. Crews have been drilling holes from the top of the mountain to try to find the miners while others were tunneling through a debris-filled entry to the mine.
Underground, the miners had advanced to only 826 feet (252 meters) in nine days. Mining officials said conditions in the mine were treacherous, and they were frequently forced to halt digging because of seismic activity. A day after the initial collapse, the rescuers were pushed back 300 feet (90 meters) when a bump shook the mountain and filled the tunnel with rubble.
Before Thursday’s incident, workers still had about 1,200 feet (365 meters) to go to reach the area where they believe the trapped men had been working.
The digging had been set back Wednesday night, when a coal excavating machine was half buried by rubble by seismic shaking. Another mountain bump interrupted work briefly Thursday morning.
“The seismic activity underground has just been relentless. The mountain is still alive, the mountain is still moving and we cannot endanger the rescue workers as we drive toward these trapped miners,” Murray said earlier Thursday.
Murray had become more reticent to predict when the excavation would be complete. At the current rate, it was expected to take several more days.
On top of the mountain, rescuers were drilling a fourth hole, aiming for a spot where they had detected mysterious vibrations in the mountain. That drilling was believed to be continuing after the latest accident, but the mine was evacuated and officials haven’t decided whether to suspend the rescue effort, Kulczewski said.
Officials said Thursday that the latest of three holes previously drilled reached an intact chamber with potentially breathable air.