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Trapped miners' families ask union to help force recovery

Published August 22, 2007 12:08 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 2:45 PM- HUNTINGTON CANYON -- The operator of the Crandall Canyon coal mine says no one will be going back into the tunnels where six men have been trapped since Aug. 6.

That means the bodies of the miners may never be recovered.

"I told (the Mine Safety and Health Administration) it is an evil mountain, it is alive, and I will never go back there," Robert Murray said today.

After an Aug. 16 accident killed three rescue workers, Murray said he notified MSHA director Richard Stickler that he would submit "papers" to seal the mine.

"There is only one way to rescue them and that is through the mine. But federal authorities recommend that no one ever go back in that mine."

The families are understandably outraged, the mine CEO conceded.

Some of the families have contacted the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) about helping them force a recovery effort, should it come to that, said Mike Dalpaiz, longtime Utah union representative.

The could set up a new skirmish between labor and Murray.

"The families want closure," Murray said. "But we cannot risk the life of another human being to reach bodies that are deceased."

The search will continue, Murray said, although he noted that "hope is dim."

A fifth borehole drilled from the mountain top reached the mine shortly before noon today. Rescue crews will lower microphones and cameras this afternoon seeking signs of life.

If it is unsuccessful, a six hole will be drilled later in the week, Murray said. But that could be the last one.

"After the sixth bore hole, we don't have any more options."

Rescuers will not drill a 30-inch hole in order to send down a cage large enough for a human being. Such rigs have been used in past mining rescue efforts, but only after signs of life were recognized.

"If we find someone alive, which is very unlikely, we will continue our rescue efforts," Murray said. "But the use of a 30-inch hole is useless unless there is a live miner in there. I can't put a human being down there unless I find a live miner."

The Crandall Canyon mine may well be the last resting place for the trapped miners, Murray said.

"We're already discussing how to honor these men -- if this is a site in perpetuity."

Union organizers are taking advantage of the tragedy, the mine CEO said.

Reports that Murray Energy Corp. would continue the mining operation were rumors started by the United Mine Workers of America, Murray said.

"The United Mine Workers are praying on the tragedy of these miners and their families."

Murray did concede, however, that he had said that "maybe someday" the remaining coal would be mined from the mountain.

Longtime UMWA representative Mike Dalpaiz said Murray is a "wacko" who "is not the god of the mining industry as he says he is."

"We don't start rumors. I don't know what that guy is going to do, because he has changed his mind so many times," Dalpaiz said referring to Murray.

Some of the families of the trapped miners have contacted the UMWA about helping them recover the men, whether they are dead or alive.

And the union will help the families get the men out of the mine, Dalpaiz said.

"This is absolutely the most atrocious mining I've seen in 30 years," he said of the practices at the Crandall Canyon mine.

"No body should ever put miners at risk like that and the federal authorities have their hand deep in the cookie jar along with Murray."

As he has in the past, Murray continued to fault Mother Nature as the culprit in the mining disaster, referring to the cave in as an earthquake.

Seismologists say data shows otherwise.

And the mine CEO stuck by his earlier statement that he had not changed the mining plan since buying half ownership in the mine in 2006.

Records obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, however, show that Murray's company received approval from federal regulators to make significant changes to the mining strategy at Crandall Canyon.

Murray also accused Gov. Jon M. Huntsman of "playing politics" with the tragedy by calling for inspections of Murray Energy's two other Utah mines."

"I beat him to the punch by three to four days in requesting that review. I'm about the safety of the miners. I'm not going to put them in a mine that's not safe."

All of the miners from Crandall Canyon have been transferred to the Tower and West Ridge mines in Carbon County. Both are operated by Murray Energy.

-- Mike Gorrell contributed to this report






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