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Originally published June 3, 2008
The August collapse at the Crandall Canyon coal mine originated near where six miners were working and happened almost instantly with no warning, destroying more than 50 square acres of the underground mine, a group of University of Utah scientists report.
Steve Allred, whose brother, Kerry, died in the mine, takes some solace in the evidence that he and the five men working with him probably never knew what hit them.
"I've got to think that way. I've had to think that way since they couldn't get them out - and I can't think any other way. That's the only way I can continue on," said Allred, of Cleveland, Utah. "We knew it all the time. But now that we have proof, that's a huge benefit for the families."
The team of University of Utah researchers, who spent months gathering data on the collapse that entombed the six miners, also concluded in a study released Monday that the collapse was not caused by an earthquake, as the mine's co-owner, Bob Murray, had suggested in the aftermath of the disaster.
"We're as sure as we can be," said Jim Pechmann, the lead author and a professor of geology and geophysics.
The sprawling underground mine collapsed in the early-morning hours of Aug. 6 and registered as a 3.9 magnitude quake on seismograph stations in the area. The collapse was almost instantaneous, the team determined, even though stations picked up residual shock waves for several minutes.
"There would have been no time for anybody to get out of the way. It would have happened too fast for that," said Pechmann.
Researchers determined the roof of the mine probably dropped only about a foot, but the compression caused huge amounts of coal to explode from the hundreds of pillars that were supporting the mine, filling the passageways in an area 3,018 feet long and 722 feet wide.
The team has provided its findings to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and submitted the 53-page paper last month to the journal Seismological Research Letters for publication.
"What I really hope is that this will help the accident investigators figure out what caused the collapse and it will help them prevent future such collapses," Pechmann said.
Price resident Lucille Erickson said she and her husband, Erick, "try not to think about" the final minutes of their son Don's life. But, in a barely audible voice, she said it was helpful to get the facts when "you deal with so many unanswered things."
In the aftermath of the Aug. 6 collapse, Bob Murray, co-owner of the mine, insisted repeatedly that the tragedy was caused by an earthquake and could not be avoided.
But the seismologists - including Walter Arabasz, director of the U. seismology stations, who was the first to report the collapse to authorities after recognizing the tell-tale signs on seismograph readouts miles away - insisted the collapse caused the 3.9 magnitude shock.
Rob Murray, vice president of Murray Energy and the son of Robert Murray, said that his father had been provided with information from experts who told him that a seismic event had occurred about 4,000 feet southwest of where the miners were working, near Joe's Valley Fault.
"As a result, they maintained that the seismic event moved from that location and across the area where the miners were working," Rob Murray said. The Mine Safety and Health Administration is conducting its official investigation, which could be out by the end of the summer.
Pechmann and Arabasz were joined on the report by seismologists Kris Pankow and Relu Burlacu, and Michael "Kim" McCarter, chairman of the U. mining engineering department.