This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Despite stringent regulations and frequent safety inspections, underground coal mining is a dangerous industry. Always has been; always will be. From the mountains of Utah and Arizona to the hollows of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, mines have become tombs for far too many, for far too long.
While underground mines are much safer than a century ago, when hundreds of miners died each year, the modern toll is still staggering. Since 1998, 308 coal miners have died in accidents in the United States, the majority in underground mines.
Historically, Utahns have paid a heavy price. The Winter Quarters coal mine explosion near Scofield in Carbon County in 1900 killed 200 men and boys. The Castlegate coal mine near Helper in Carbon County claimed 172 lives on March 8, 1924. Standardville . . . Sunnyside . . . Kane Creek . . . Wilberg. The list goes on.
It happened again Monday morning at the Crandall Canyon deep mine in Emery County. The roof collapsed as a 10-man crew worked a seam of coal more than three miles inside the mine, 1,500 feet underground. Four men escaped and six were trapped, their fate unknown.
A massive rescue mission is under way, with teams working around the clock to reach the trapped miners. It's a story that's played out again and again outside mine portals. Rescuers scurry. Anguished families pray, and sometimes mourn.
Was the mine safe? What caused the accident? And what about that lengthy list of safety violations at Crandall Canyon, more than 300 in the past three years?
There are lots of questions to be asked and answered, but not now. Not yet. Not while rescuers dig and drill, and families wait and worry.
That hasn't kept mine owner Robert Murray from going on the offensive, blasting the press, the United Mineworkers Union and coal-industry critics, including anyone who speaks up about how the burning of coal contributes to global warming. The politically connected coal baron, lacking any apparent sense of propriety, has used press conferences as a pulpit to proclaim his mine safe, and to claim, despite strong seismic evidence to the contrary, that an earthquake caused the collapse.
Murray should show some respect for the tight-knit community in Eastern Utah's coal fields. There will be plenty of time for pointing fingers and making excuses.
For the moment, friends and family of the missing miners are worried exclusively about their loved ones. They're bowing their heads, holding their breath, holding their tongues. Murray should do the same.