Friday, August 24, 2007

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Trouble and Tragedy Two Miles In

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Trouble and Tragedy Two Miles In
One thing is certain about the Sago Mine disaster.

The rest of the world will move on. In the weeks and months to come, there will be other disasters, other wars, other political scandals.
But for the families of the 12 men who died inside the mine in Tallmansville, W.Va., for the one who survives, for their relatives and friends, for the investigators searching for the cause of the mine explosion, for the people of these coal-rich hills 100 miles south of Pittsburgh, Sago will be a daily litany.
Some questions about the Jan. 2 accident may never be answered. But there is understanding to be gained by reconstructing what happened.
Today, we give the best account that can be given, 13 days after the tragedy, of who these men were, what happened to them that day, what brave efforts were made by the rescue teams, and what sad lessons may be pulled from this earth.

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Chapter One / Back to WorkSunday, January 15, 2006
The New Year was barely 24 hours old when Terry Helms pulled on work clothes, picked up sandwiches his fiancee had made for his lunch and stepped into the darkness of Newburg, W.Va. He drove south for the hour-plus trip to the Sago Mine, where he worked since the fall.
Mr. Helms, 50, was the mine fire boss, in charge of checking for lethal levels of gas and other dangers inside. His workday started at 3 a.m., and three hours into it he'd join one of two daylight crews as they began their 10-hour shifts underground. Later, he planned to welcome his daughter, Amber, 22, who was moving back home to begin a job in the advertising department of Morgantown's Dominion-Post newspaper.
A miner since 18, Mr. Helms took joy in knowing that his daughter and son, aspiring pro golfer Nick Helms, 25, had work that was less risky than his. At 3 a.m., he would have been working his way through his checklist before the rest of the shift arrived.
As Mr. Helms moved through the mine, roof bolter Randal McCloy Jr. kissed his wife, Anna, and headed off to the mining job he tolerated for the wages it provided to support his family. He had come to Sago in July 2004 after working in a Maryland mine, and had a daily ritual before leaving home in tiny Simpson, 25 miles north of the mine. He'd profess his love for Anna, their son, Randal, 4, and daughter, Isabel, 1, then assure her, "God's always with you."
Weeks before, Mr. McCloy, 26, had told his wife that his gas meter "was going crazy" as he drilled into sandstone inside the mine, relieved that somehow the stone did not emit a potentially disastrous spark. "God had to be with him," his wife would say.
Section foreman Martin Toler Jr., 51, also had a long drive from his home in Flatwoods, about an hour southwest. Tucked inside his pockets were sheets of paper on which he often scratched out to-do lists.
Like others on his crew, he didn't carp about the lengthy commute. Nor did crew members dwell much on the danger accompanying these rare well-paying jobs in rural West Virginia.
The grandfather of Jesse L. Jones, 44, another member of the crew, had died in a mine accident. Mr. Helms had been injured by falling debris, but stuck with mining with matter-of-fact acceptance, his children said.
Also seriously injured several years back was Fred Ware, 59, who operated a continuous mining machine in the pit across the river from his home.
Mr. Ware was deeply religious but not a church-goer. A deacon at the Sago Baptist Church, across the street from the Ware house, remembers that Mr. Ware never was seen in the pews, but every year would donate to the church. Early Jan. 2, he left his Bible on his chair, then drove his truck across Sago Road to the mine.
Mr. Ware had urged his son, Darrell, to follow him into the mines, but Darrell preferred construction work.
"I think my brother was scared to ever go," ventured Mr. Ware's daughter, Peggy Cohen, a nurse.
Some of the men who made up the daylight crew that worked the Second Left section of Sago had aspired to mining since childhood. Steeped in tradition, they'd spent years underground. George "Junior" Hamner, 54, ran a cattle farm in nearby Glady Fork, but still toiled in the mine, which now extended under land where he'd grown up.
For others, the mine wasn't a first choice. David Lewis, 28, of Thornton, was raised on a farm, trained as a diesel mechanic and had worked at other jobs before becoming a roof bolter at Sago. Mr. McCloy became certified as an electrician in the hope of one day working above ground.
Yet as they drove through the darkness that morning, the men of Second Left shared other things.
They were outdoorsmen who enjoyed fishing and hunting. Like Jack Weaver, who often scrawled "Jesus Saves' on the dusty sides of mine transport vehicles, or James Bennett, who prayed for miners around him, they were godly men who weren't shy about professing their faith.
"You get a good crew that works together, they like to keep them together," said fellow Sago miner Ron Grall, 63, of Buckhannon, whose crew was scheduled to work in another section that morning. As their first workday of 2006 dawned, the men of Second Left turned off Sago Road, crossed a narrow bridge and pulled into the gravel parking lot to begin another shift, another year, together.
Below them, as the clock ticked toward 5:30 a.m., Mr. Helms was wrapping up his inspection. If everything appeared in order, he would signal to the mine portal for the crew to board its mantrip, the mechanized buggy that would carry them into the earth.
At 6 a.m. the signal came: All clear.
As mine design goes, Sago is a throwback to the 19th century, before elevators made it possible to dig a vertical shaft to lower the miners and equipment to work the coal seam from there. Sago's main shaft sloped a gradual two miles into the side of a mountain.
Two sections of the mine were being worked that day. Most of the way down the shaft was a seam of coal called First Left. A bit farther along, the mine had opened a new section, Second Left. The previous Second Left was at the very end of the shaft, but because of frequent rock falls, it had been sealed off a month earlier with large, light, compressed squares called omega blocks.
The Second Left crew boarded the first mantrip for the ride into the earth.
Safety inspectors believe that Mr. Helms had been assigned to inspect the First Left coal area and was then headed to Second Left to work there.
The 11 men slated to work First Left hadn't started out on time. The mantrip they had been sent was brand new and too small to fit everyone.
Mr. Grall was part of that crew. "It was just like any other day," Mr. Grall remembered, but one thing struck him as unusual: "There was a thunderstorm in January, which is kind of odd."
The First Left crew reached the turnoff for their work area and got ready to pull the track switch that allowed the car to turn left toward the work face.
It was 6:31 a.m.

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Chapter Two / Sago ExplodesSunday, January 15, 2006
Victoria Rice was snuggled in bed with her husband, Clifford, and their German shepherd mutt. The on-and-off rain and occasional thunderclaps through the night hadn't disturbed their sleep, and after six years in their two-story clapboard home on Sago Road, they were used to the sound of large trucks rolling to and from the entrance to Sago Mine a few hundred yards away.
But at 6:26 that morning by their clock, the three of them were jolted out of bed by a huge lightning strike nearby and, seconds later, by what Clifford Rice described as "an earthquake."
"It felt really weird," said Mrs. Rice, 26. "It shook the whole house. It busted two of our windows. It shook me to where I was up off the bed. I realized something was wrong. I thought the rumbling would never stop."
Two miles away and more than 200 feet underground, Ron Grall and the rest of his crew working in the First Left section of the Sago Mine felt a rumble and heard a long, loud groan. Then came the black cloud.
"All of a sudden, we were getting hit by all this fine coal dust and mud," Mr. Grall said. "It covered the mantrip up."
The shaft darkened with black smoke. The explosion rolled from the farthest ends of the mine, consuming the mine's air supply with it.
"You could feel your oxygen deplete," Mr. Grall said.
It's what happens in any fire, experts say. The carbon in burning material combines with oxygen in the air and some of it forms carbon monoxide, a deadly problem in poorly ventilated mine shafts.
Mr. Grall's crew phoned the surface and told the dispatcher there had been an explosion. Then the 11 men began walking toward the surface.
"We were feeling our way. ... We couldn't see," he said.
Halfway up the shaft, they saw a four-man crew coming toward them. The blast had knocked out the phone line to another section of the mine known as Second Left, and the crew was going to investigate. That crew handed over its mantrip, sent Mr. Grall's crew to the surface and forged ahead on foot.
Mr. Grall's group reached the portal and waited for word on the men working in Second Left.
"They never came out," Mr. Grall said
In the swirling dust, investigators later learned, 12 of the 13 miners in Second Left clambered into their battery-powered mantrip and tried to bulldoze their way out. Debris blocked their path.
They retreated and erected a barricade to separate themselves from the accumulating carbon monoxide.
Even as they huddled there and a rescue plan was being formulated, questions immediately turned to the cause of the explosion. Did lightning ignite a buildup of methane? Did the roof collapse in a mine known to be prone to such failures? Was it a breached gas well? A lax culture of safety in the mine?
The day of the accident, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., chairman of the board of directors of the mine owner, International Coal Group, called it "a horrible, freak accident."
"Apparently, a lightning bolt struck the mine."
Without question, a 35-mile area around Sago Mine had been hammered by about 100 lightning strikes, according to the WeatherBug US Precision Lightning Network in Germantown, Md.
The company said a single, powerful strike occurred 36 seconds after 6:26, within 450 yards of the mine entrance. The strike registered 35,000 amperes, 50 percent more powerful than normal cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. (Another company registered a strike four times stronger than average.)
Two seconds later, seismic activity registered in the area of Sago Mine. Tom Novak, chairman of the department of mining and mineral engineering at Virginia Tech University, believes the correlation in time and space between the two events means they are connected.
In the past decade, there have been at least 10 instances of lightning strikes causing coal mine explosions, all of them in worked-out, sealed areas of mines called "gobs." Lightning can enter a mine by striking any metallic structure protruding from the mine to the surface, such as cables, conveyor structures, water pipes and bore-hole casings. The Sago Mine explosion, Dr. Novak said, "had the makings of an explosion that could have been ignited by lightning."
Terry Farley, an administrator in the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training, said investigators "will look at everything that's available to us." Federal investigators with the Mine Safety and Health Administration were in Sago by last weekend.
Two days after the incident, investigators determined that the explosion occurred in a sealed area of the mine known as 2nd Left Mains. Because air could not circulate in the area, it's doubtful that coal dust had accumulated. But methane and other combustible gases could have.
Mark C. Radomsky, director of field services for the Miner Training Program at Penn State University, said the explosion might have been triggered by a mine roof collapse. Methane can be ignited by rocks or roof bolts crashing down and producing sparks.
Federal records show that the section where the explosion occurred had 31 roof collapses in 2004 and last year.
Although there is no way to know whether the safety violations played any role in the mine explosion, mining expert Larry Grayson, a former mine superintendant and current chairman of the mining department at the University of Missouri-Rolla, said it reflected that "people were not paying attention."
After the explosion Jan. 2, everyone was paying attention to the Sago Mine.

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Chapter Three / Sago's Tangled SagaSunday, January 15, 2006
Although International Coal Group now owns Sago, the mine's operations and reputation are more closely tied to the company that ran it until just last year: Anker West Virginia Mining Co., a once flourishing firm whose troubles started when company President John Faltis rented a helicopter Oct. 12, 1997, to take aerial photos of newly acquired mining property.
Mr. Faltis, a charismatic executive and contributor to political campaigns and local universities, was largely responsible for Anker's status as one of the 30 largest coal producers in the United States. A former Consolidated Coal Co. engineer, he joined Anker in 1975, a year after its founding, and moved its headquarters and his family from Pittsburgh to Morgantown, W.Va., and began selling coal to smaller, independent power plants.
Then came that fall day in 1997 when the Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter crashed in a remote area of Upshur County, W.Va., killing the 55-year-old executive, his wife and two others.
"It was a huge blow to the company," said a former Anker official, one that seemed to unleash a series of unfortunate events for Anker.
Its coal production, which had been increasing by 20 percent a year, began dropping, from 7.3 million tons in 1998 to 5 million in 2000 to 3 million in 2002.
The company issued $125 million in bonds in 1999 to raise money. Three years later, it defaulted on more than $6 million in interest due to bondholders and filed for bankruptcy.
In January 2002, the company fired CEO William Kilgore, President Bruce Sparks and Richard Bolen, vice president of corporate development. The year of its bankruptcy, Anker closed several of its West Virginia mines, including a 3-year-old operation at Sago, citing poor market conditions.
As the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2003, it was projecting more production out of its West Virginia mines. Sago and two other Anker mines in Upshur County were expected to provide the company with 39 percent of its coal.
Sago began mining coal again in the first quarter of 2004, with Anker employees doing the work. It was expected to reach full production by the end of 2005.
The operation expanded quickly, but Anker was still in the red, losing $14.5 million in the first nine months of last year. It had also become a buyout target of International Coal Group, run by billionaire financier Wilbur Ross. Mr. Ross was trying to profit by renovating troubled mining companies, just as he had by buying and reorganizing wobbly steel firms.
He announced the purchase of Anker in March 2005. He was not a stranger to those at Anker. Before the Anker bankruptcy in 2002, W.L. Ross & Co. controlled $37.3 million in Anker debt, 47 percent of its outstanding preferred stock and had loaned the company $3 million.
Mr. Ross also had a seat on the board. In March 2002, seven months before the bankruptcy filing, the board slimmed to four members: Mr. Ross, Wexford Capital's Mark Zand and two representatives from Enron Corp., which held 21.5 percent of Anker's preferred stock.
At Sago, ICG began providing "management services" in June 2005 and took over the entire operation Nov. 18. It promised, in financial documents, a "productivity-focused culture" that encourages employees to "work efficiently, safely and productively."
Some Sago miners said they noticed a difference right away. At a meeting soon after ICG took over, "The first thing out of their mouths was safety," one former Anker miner said.
Sago's safety record seemed to worsen in the second half of last year, though. It had 70 federal safety citations in the third quarter and 45 in the fourth quarter. It received 10 of the most serious violations, called "withdrawal orders," in the third quarter, and three in the fourth, citing a weak roof, improper ventilation, blocked escape passages, piles of combustible materials and improper pre-shift examinations.
A federal inspector's order from July 14, when Anker was receiving management services from ICG, says Anker demonstrated "higher than normal neglect" for allowing coal pillars in a now-closed section to be cut dangerously thin.
On Dec. 14, about a month after ICG took complete control, another inspector wrote that ICG had "shown a high degree of negligence'' by allowing the accumulation of potentially explosive coal dust.
The same month, ICG sealed off a section of Sago mine where inspectors had found regular roof collapses and conditions that made it "impossible" to test for methane gas.

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Chapter Four / The Rescue BeginsSunday, January 15, 2006
As the rest of his crew staggered toward the portal, choking through the smoke, foreman Owen Jones thought about his brother, Jesse. Jesse Jones was one of the 12 men who left 10 minutes ahead of Owen's crew, en route to the Second Left section.
"I started to go back," said Owen Jones, 40. "I told my men to go outside. I started to go back into there. I knew I had a brother in there." In a few moments, his carbon monoxide monitor went off. The explosion had consumed the mine's oxygen. Poisonous gas was filling the shaft.
"I figured I better go, too, or I wouldn't get out," he said. Owen Jones retreated to the portal.
Miner Roger Perry also was part of that second crew. His brother-in-law, Alva "Marty" Bennett, was somewhere inside Second Left, but the cloud had blown shards of metal into his eyes. He had to retreat.
Mine officials say a superintendent and three other people from the company got well inside the mine before turning back, just short of the turn into the Second Left section. No one would get near the missing men again for another 40 hours.
Sago Mine officials began calling state and federal mine regulatory agencies. It was 7:40 a.m. -- an hour and nine minutes after the explosion.
A mine rescue team from adjacent Barbour County received a call at 8:04 a.m.
Surprisingly, nobody dialed 911 until 7:55 a.m.
That was when Upshur County Communications Center dispatcher Gary Fitzgerald answered a call from a man who asked for an ambulance to set out for the Sago mines for an unknown medical emergency.
"All they said was they needed a guy checked out at Sago mines,'' center Supervisor Louise Bleigh said, adding the caller gave no hint of the magnitude of the situation there. "It doesn't happen often, but it's not unusual that we get calls where they require an ambulance." Usually, the injuries are minor.
Mr. Fitzgerald asked the caller what had happened, Ms. Bleigh said. The caller said he didn't know. The dispatcher transferred the call to the county Emergency Medical Services agency, and as per protocol, also summoned firefighters from the Washington District and neighboring Adrian fire companies.
At 8:09 a.m., firefighters began radioing the chilling news that several men were trapped in the mine "and they were going to need a lot of help,'' Ms. Bleigh said. "Until this point, we've taken it as pretty much a routine medical call.''
Ms. Bleigh recalled the "roaring'' thunderstorm that had passed through the region earlier that morning. But she said the dispatch center had received no calls about lightning strikes, power outages or explosions.
In nearby Adrian, Bennie Nazelrod, chief of the volunteer fire department, was still in bed at 8 a.m. when his pager went off to accompany and assist the ambulance. When he arrived at the mine gate, Mr. Nazelrod learned that miners were trapped. "It was, 'Oh, my gosh, what do we need to do?' '' he said. "Everything went into overdrive.''
Firefighters swarmed to provide what assistance they could, asking about equipment, setting up an area for emergency medical treatment, obtaining radios for ground communications and dealing with traffic.
"Once I heard [the miners were in as far as ] 10,000 feet, I knew it would be a really long ordeal,'' Mr. Nazelrod said. Then they got an order to move across the nearby Buckhannon River, due to fears that carbon monoxide levels around the mine entrance were unsafe.
State regulators began arriving at 8:30 a.m. Rescue crews from other mines started showing up a few hours later.
"We were on the ground at the mine about 10:30 a.m.," said Ray McKinney, an official with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
By noon, MSHA had three five-member teams -- the minimum needed to set up a base and an oxygen station farther in and to start the search.
But they had something else: a mine awash in deadly carbon monoxide.
"This is a dire situation. You've got evidence of fire ... and you've had an explosion," Mr. McKinney said. Four years earlier, in Brookwood, Ala., a rescue crew had rushed in to rescue trapped miners and been killed by a second explosion.
Because of federal regulations, many safety standards must be met before rescuers even enter a mine.
"It's a gut-wrenching decision when you decide you're going to send people down into the mine," Mr. McKinney said.
As word of the explosion spread, miners' families gathered across the Buckhannon River from the road leading to the mine. Judy Shackleford, sister of trapped fire boss Terry Helms, stared at the mine entrance. Her mind went back to Quecreek, in Somerset County, where teams were able to rescue nine men trapped deep in the earth after their mine flooded in 2002.
"We're hoping they get that team in that they had from Pennsylvania," she said. "We need them now."
All day Jan. 2, carbon monoxide levels escalated. They rose from 500 parts per million to 2,600 parts per million by noon. The maximum safe level is 400 ppm. A nearby mine office was evacuated by safety officials fearful the carbon monoxide would seep through the floor.
At 3 p.m. a chromatograph, an instrument for pinpointing gas measurements, arrived and verified the numbers MSHA had taken on handheld devices at the mine mouth. By 3:30, the carbon monoxide levels dropped somewhat, to 1,400 parts per million.
"We made a decision at that time to put people inside the mine," Mr. McKinney said.
At 5:51 p.m., a team from Consol Energy's Robinson Run mine near Shinnston, W.Va., entered and, an hour later, ran into water seeping from an old, sealed off section parallel to the portal. A crew from another West Virginia mine entered between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Crews set up a pump and gingerly, for fear of sparks, powered it up at 8:10 p.m.
Rescue crews kept arriving from other Consol mines near Wana, Fairmont and Moundsville, W.Va., and from the 84 and Enlow Fork mines in Washington County and Bailey Mine in Greene County, from ICG's Viper Mine in Williamsville, Ind., and from Tri-State Coal Teams near Kingwood, W.Va.
Painstakingly and slowly, they worked to secure the roof, monitor air quality and reconnect telephone wires after checking for combustible gases. They also checked their own equipment and breathing apparatus and each other for signs of distress. By midnight, crews had made their way halfway down the main mine shaft.
At one crosscut, a team member spotted bright, red lights. A carbon monoxide monitor installed in that area was emitting sparks. They searched out the power supply and shut it off.
Above ground, atop a far end of the shaft, a crew led by Mike Ross, a local driller, was sinking a bore hole. Crews hoped to provide ventilation to let out the bad air while giant fans at the mine mouth forced in good.
But with the possibility of flammable methane pockets, the oncoming drill bit was a danger. It could emit sparks or heat up enough to set off a fire. Early Tuesday, MSHA ordered crews out of the mine as the bit neared the point of breaking through.
The crew didn't know it at the time, but the hole broke through within 200 feet of the trapped men. All engines on the drill were shut down and the men fell silent as someone pounded on the long pipe attached to the bit and waited for someone to pound back from below.
"We didn't get anything," Mr. Ross said. At 7:42 a.m., crews lowered a video camera down the hole. It showed a scene of quiet. Someone else took a carbon monoxide measurement on the air flowing out: 1,200 parts per million, still deadly.
While crews were out of the mine, a robot was sent in to explore. It bogged down in mud 9,500 feet inside the main shaft.
"We never let the robot slow us down," Mr. McKinney said, explaining it was used only when men couldn't be inside.
Discouraged by the lack of communication from the miners, the crews speeded up, no longer taking as much time to "rehabilitate'' damaged sections of the mine along their way. By midday Tuesday, rescue crews were able to set up a fresh-air base, with supplies of oxygen for explorers, outside the turn to First Left, the area from which crews had evacuated safely after the blast.
Mr. McKinney said they had to decide at that point whether to explore First Left, in case the missing miners had fled there, or gamble that they had stayed farther inside the mine. They pushed on toward Second Left, about 13,000 feet within the mine.
About 4:30 p.m., crews reached the turnoff for Second Left, the same area company crews had managed to reach in the hours just after the blast, only to be driven back. Rescuers this time found all the omega block seals blown out from the sealed-off area.
At 5:18 p.m., searching from coal pillar to coal pillar, they found fire boss Terry Helms dead inside another mantrip.
The crews turned into Second Left to continue their search.
At 7:45 p.m., they found a second mantrip, the buggy the Second Left crew had taken into the mine.
"There was nobody in it," Mr. McKinney said. The team went to the primary air intake and found footprints.
"The footprints' indication was they were traveling toward the surface," he said. The team found the bottoms of the self-rescue air devices issued to the miners, indicating they'd donned them there.
It was nearly midnight when rescuers found a makeshift barricade. Behind it, a dozen men were stretched out. At least four of them had notes with them.
Tom Anderson put together a note to his wife and son.
"It was a short and sweet little note," Willard Anderson would recall later. "To her and Ti and his family."
Others who saw it said he told his wife, Lynda, that he loved her and told his son to grow up, be strong and help his family.
Martin Toler scratched out a note that trailed off the page as he wearied.
"Tell all I see them on the other side," he wrote. "It wasn't bad. Just went to sleep."
James Bennett, a miner who spent lunch hours reading the Bible, kept a note with three entries. The first was marked 11:40 a.m., telling his family it was becoming smoky, dark, that they were losing air.
The last entry came at 4:25 p.m., not quite 10 hours after the blast. The words trailed off the page.
By this point, rescuers were stretched so far down the mine and telephone service was so spotty that messages were shouted in relays that ICG President Ben Hatfield said involved four to seven links. The first rescuer shouted out word of what he had found.
By the time it reached the command center, it had transformed into something devastatingly untrue.

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Chapter Five / Joy to SorrowSunday, January 15, 2006
It's an ironclad rule of mine rescue operations that information never is released until it is verified unquestionably.
But Jan. 3, as the clock ticked toward midnight after a day of discouraging discoveries inside the mine, those involved with the rescue effort got news so good that it couldn't be contained within the walls of the command center.
Dennis O'Dell, administrator of health and safety for the United Mine Workers, had been observing the rescue effort all day, but he wasn't allowed inside the command center because the Sago Mine wasn't a union operation.
Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette Grief reappeared at Sago Baptist Church after the miners' families learned that only one man had survived the explosion. They had been told a few hours earlier that only one miner had died. Here, Cheryl Ann Meredith and her husband, Dan, comfort their daughter, Danielle, after the sad news reached the church. Ann Meredith's father, James Bennett, perished in the mine. About 11:45 p.m., he paced on a patch of gravel between the building that housed the rescue operation and the entrance to the mine.
All of a sudden, he said, people started streaming out of the command center, shouting, "They're alive. They're alive."
As government employees ran to share the news with co-workers sitting inside their vehicles, Mr. O' Dell questioned an International Coal Group employee and was assured that the reports were true.
"We all celebrated the wonderful victory and what we thought to be the safe delivery of our employees," ICG President Ben Hatfield said.
About that time, rescuers and company officials could hear bells and cheering at the nearby Sago Baptist Church, where families of the trapped miners were congregated. In a news conference later, Mr. Hatfield said that word probably spread through "stray cell phone conversations."
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III was in the church, speaking with distraught family members in one room, when he heard exultant cries from another room.
"Do you know what's happening?" he asked someone. The response was a jubilant, "Twelve are alive, Twelve are alive."
"Have we had that confirmed?" Gov. Manchin asked an aide, who answered that they had not.
The governor immediately left the church for the command center.
"I walked out into a sea of people, and I'm in a euphoric state, same as they were," he said.
As his car inched through a crowd, reporters asked the governor if the reports were true. Sitting inside the vehicle, he simply called out, "Miracles do happen." He then went to the command center.
For about 20 minutes, people from the rescue effort celebrated outside the command center, staring into the entrance of the mine and watching for signs of the miners. Workers scrambled to assemble medical personnel, medical supplies, heaters and water.
Then, Mr. O'Dell saw the ICG employee who had told him that all 12 were alive. He went up to him again to congratulate him on the rescue effort, but the man's demeanor had changed.
"He was broken down," Mr. O'Dell said. "He said there's been a mistake. They found one that's alive and the rest are dead."
The celebration ended almost instantly near the command center but continued in the church parking lot, where the news media were beaming images of jubilant family members around the world.
"It went from screaming and hollering and carrying on to shock and disbelief," Mr. O'Dell said. "It was a sickening feeling. You could still hear church bells ringing. You could still hear them celebrating."
From talking to rescue workers and other officials, Mr. O'Dell believes that after the rescue workers at the fresh air base inside the mine received the communication that they understood to mean that all 12 miners were alive, they went to the Second Left area of the mine to assist with bringing the miners to safety.
When they got there, he heard, they were shocked that the rescuers were working to revive only one man. At that point, the rescue crew from the fresh air base and the rescuers who initially found the bodies sorted out the miscommunication, Mr. O'Dell said.
The workers then went back to the fresh air base to relay the news to the surface.
"We were told there was an error in the previous communication," Mr. Hatfield said. "We have 12 individuals, but they are not all alive. It appears that one is alive.
"We were devastated."
Faced with conflicting reports, ICG executives weren't positive which report to believe. And they didn't know what to say to the family members back at the church.
"Who do I tell not to celebrate?" Mr. Hatfield said. "I didn't know whether the number of dead people was 12 or one. Until we had people that could measure the vital signs [and] communicate specifics about the condition of our employees, we did not want to put the families through yet another roller-coaster ride of, 'Well, some of them are dead and some of them aren't.' We couldn't go there. They'd been through enough emotional punishment already."
It was a decision, he said later, he regretted.
About 1 a.m. Jan. 4, rescue workers wheeled Randal McCloy Jr. out of the mine and were able to talk face to face about what they had found. There was no longer any doubt that only one miner had survived.
And there was no longer any question that the families, whose sounds of celebration were still audible from the parking lot of the Sago Baptist Church, would have to be told the news.
About 2 a.m., Mr. Hatfield sent a note to the church cautioning the family members that the early word might have been overly optimistic.
Half an hour later, he went into the church to inform the families that only one miner had lived.
"It's a very emotional time," he said upon exiting the church, where reporters asked him about the families' reactions. "The employees' families are grief-stricken and, frankly, angry, and I'm not surprised or upset with them, because they certainly have some basis for their frustration, having been put through this emotional roller coaster.
"I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I regret that it's happened. I'd give anything that it had not happened. It's beyond belief."
A week later, back at United Mine Workers headquarters in Fairfax, Va., Mr. O'Dell was still mulling over how things went so wrong that night.
"The problem wasn't that the information was miscommunicated to the mine rescue team," he said. "Mine rescue rules are always that you never release any information to the public, to the press, to the family members, until you absolutely verify what you know. Word never should have gotten past that command center."
There were reports that Mr. Hatfield had gone to the church to break the good news to the families, but Adrian Fire Chief Bennie Nazelrod said his firefighters had the T intersection blocked to prevent unauthorized people from turning off the Sago road and entering the mine headquarters complex. He said people from the mine site never drove down or crossed the bridge to go up to the church before all of the celebrating started up there.
"They never went to the church," he said. "Then Gov. Manchin came through to go to the mine and check out the status. I think whoever made those cell phone calls didn't hear the word 'one' alive."
Mine rescue team members who were inside Sago during the rescue attempt have refused to shed any light on how the bad information left the mine.
"I don't want to talk about it. My men are having too many complications with the mental part of it," said Rod Henry, of Carmichaels, Greene County, who is part of the team from the Enlow Fork Mine. "We just want them to complete their investigation and see what happened.''
That also was the sentiment of ICG officials.
"I have no interest in finger-pointing, because these are people that risk their lives to save lives," Mr. Hatfield said. "And we are not going to try to single anyone out for having misspoken or jumped to an optimistic conclusion. I don't want to go down that road at all."
Gov. Manchin promised to make the miscommunication problem part of the investigation.
"How could this happen?'' he said. "I can't tell you of anything more heart-wrenching I've ever gone through in my life."

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Chapter Six / The SurvivorSunday, January 15, 2006
Rescuers followed the sound of Randal McCloy Jr.'s moans to the vapor barricade, 41 hours after the explosion trapped him and his fellow miners.
At 11:46 p.m. Jan. 3, the young man's medical odyssey began.
No full account of the event has been released. Rescue team members have not spoken publicly and federal privacy laws bar examination of individual medical records.
But the federal government has set clear rules for mine rescues, and the five-man teams which took turns searching underground were accompanied by at least one Mine Safety and Health Administration regulator, according to company reports.
If regulations were followed, the team first counted the men, then checked each for vital signs: pulse, breathing, skin, pupils.
Mr. McCloy, the youngest of the group at 26, was lying on his left side. He was limp, barely alive, but he had a chance.
A rescuer relayed the news to a "fresh air team" closer to the mine entrance, which then sent word to the command center outside. They then set to work on the lone survivor.
They "desperately [tried] to resuscitate Mr. McCloy," said Gene Kitts, senior vice president of International Coal Group. They stripped off his gear and applied an oxygen mask and neck collar. Mr. McCloy's left lung had collapsed, and his airways were severely inflamed and congested.
"Probably, in the last hour or so in the mine, he was unable to really control his airway," said Dr. Richard Shannon, chief of medicine at Allegheny General Hospital. "He lost his ability to sneeze and to cough, and began to accumulate a lot of dust and gases."
When lungs breathe carbon monoxide, the molecules pass into the blood and attach themselves to hemoglobin, the body's oxygen-delivery system. Delicate organs and tissues start to break down. Blood pressure plummets. The central nervous system shuts down.
"A high enough exposure can lead to cardiac damage, unconsciousness, death," said Dr. Kevin O'Toole, an emergency physician for UPMC Presbyterian hospital.
Standard first aid for acute carbon monoxide poisoning, he said, is establishing a clear airway for the lungs, providing oxygen and injecting fluid through an intravenous line to counteract dehydration and low blood pressure. Then it's essential to get the patient to fresh air and a hospital.
Nearly an hour passed before the rescue team radioed that Mr. McCloy was stable enough to move. It took almost an hour to carry him to the surface. He emerged at 1 a.m. An ambulance whisked him to St. Joseph Hospital in nearby Buckhannon, where a breathing tube was inserted and initial medical checks began.
A helicopter landing zone was set up near the coal tipple, but the Health Net Medevac service could not retrieve Mr. McCloy because of foggy weather, said Catherine Collins, Upshur County 911 director. A Red Cross supervisor said terrain, darkness, weather, "and a ton of people going nuts all over the place" made Sago Mine a less-than-safe landing spot.
At any rate, St. Joseph Hospital was 10 minutes away by ambulance. When he arrived, Mr. McCloy was in a coma, his body dehydrated, his kidneys shut down. His liver was damaged and his heartbeat was irregular.
Doctors in Buckhannon stabilized him, then sent him by helicopter to trauma specialists at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.
Through that Wednesday and Thursday, he lay near death. Doctors put him on a ventilator and reinflated his lung. Kidney and lung dialysis treatments cleared waste from his organs.
Mr. McCloy's wife, Anna, said he squeezed her hand when she spoke to him. His CT scan showed no brain injuries, but Dr. John Prescott said Mr. McCloy "is not waking up as we had hoped he would do. ... We believe there has been some injury at this point to his brain."
Mr. McCloy spent last weekend at Allegheny General Hospital being treated in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. The treatment forces pressurized oxygen into the body to fight severe carbon monoxide poisoning and stave off long-term damage.
Several doctors said they had never heard of anyone breathing carbon monoxide as long as Mr. McCloy and surviving.
Mr. McCloy returned to Ruby Memorial and remains in critical but stable condition. On Thursday, a surgeon performed a tracheostomy and installed breathing and feeding tubes for long-term care. Yesterday, doctors reported that he is now breathing without the assistance of a ventilator.
His medical team doesn't seem concerned that he hasn't awakened fully. His recovery could be a long, gradual process.

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Chapter Seven / 'It's a Long Road'Sunday, January 15, 2006
The Rev. Mitchell and Mary Ann Griffin drove to the Sago Baptist Church on Wednesday, looking for the pastor, Wease Day, and for closure.
They found neither.
"There's a hole," said Mr. Griffin, a big man with bassett-hound eyes. He put his fist against his heart and stared at the hillside. "And it's going to take a long time to fill it."
The Griffins had been there the week before, right after the explosion, hoping to help with the rescue. Both are volunteer firefighters, and he is a retired Methodist minister.
They were turned away and proceeded to the nearby church, where they spent 36 hours hugging miners' families and holding their hands.
"The way a fellow pastor put it was, 'We saw the raw crucible of emotion,' " Mr. Griffin said.
Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette Malinda Moats, of Philippi, W.Va. looks over a newspaper article reporting on the seven miners, including her husband, who were killed in a fire in October 1965 in the Clinchfield Coal Co.'s mine near Wilsonburg, W.Va. She said her four children and her faith helped her make it through the difficult period after the tragedy. "Please don't call the widows," Mrs. Griffin whispered, tugging her hood around her head as her eyes welled up. "They aren't ready."
A half hour north, near Philippi, Malinda Moats was 40 years removed from the days when she was too seared to talk about becoming a widow, but the Sago Mine explosion rattled her, too.
"It was awful hard," she said. "It brought all those memories back."
She knows what the 12 families will go through in the coming weeks, months and years, from the shock and convulsive nights to the realizations that flood in:
The expanse of the empty chair at the table. Everything he did, his widow has to figure out how to do. How will she send the kids to college?
"It's a long road," she said.
Mrs. Moats watched TV coverage from the Sago Mine all night Jan. 3, remembering her own 32-hour wait: "You'd stand up every once in a while and watch for them, then you'd go and sit down again."
On Saturday night, Oct. 16, 1965, a Clinchfield Coal Co. official called to tell her that fire had broken out at the Mars Mine near Wilsonburg, about an hour's drive north of the farm where she lived. It was 11:30, and her four children were asleep. She put 16-year-old Patricia in charge and raced there.
She was 37. Her husband, Isaac Garold Moats, was 39.
She recalls his last words before leaving for work. "He said, 'You kids be good and listen to your mother,' and he walked out the door."
In the ensuing days, the children would listen to their mother try to hold it together and to her muffled sobs. They asked questions she doesn't remember, and she doesn't remember how she answered.
Mr. Moats was one of 13 men killed. Their bodies were found huddled together. One 26-year-old was brought out alive but did not survive the day.
As the autumn of '65 turned into winter, she and the children stayed with her parents, who lived a mile down a narrow road from her farm. The road was icy, so she walked to feed her six cows.
"Then I'd walk up over the hill to the cemetery. I did that for about a year. I talked to him there."
In the spring, back home on the farm, she faced chores she had never done, from cutting hay to heavy lifting. She was getting $75 a month in compensation for her husband's death, and the children collected Social Security. "I traded a horse in for potatoes that first winter and I sold calves in the spring."
Four years later, she sold the farm and bought the little house she lives in now at an auction on the courthouse square, having just enough for a down payment. She got a job as a nursing assistant, working the midnight shift so she could get her children ready for school and see them when they got home.
Two of the Moats' daughters live nearby. A son lives in Philippi and another daughter in Milton, W.Va.
"I had good children and a lot of friends who helped me," Mrs. Moats said. "There's really no turning back. You've got to grieve, but I didn't want to cry in front of the kids. That's why I didn't go to any of the services this time. I didn't want to cry, and I didn't want anyone to see me cry.
"I do worry about these women."
So does Destry Daniels, a minister from Belington, W.Va., whose Corley church congregation included the Jack Weaver family. Charlotte Weaver asked him to help take care of her 11-year-old son after the Sago Mine explosion. Mr. Daniels visited the boy at his aunt's home and talked to him often on the phone.
"He wanted to get his dad up in prayer, to call the prayer chains. He asked me, 'Can you get any more people to pray?' As we waited, we tried to scrape up all the hope we could. Wednesday morning at 4:30, he called and said, 'Preacher, Dad didn't make it.' We read some scriptures together. I didn't have other words."
Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette When he was 16, Joe Megna lost his father in the Farmington No. 9 explosion in 1968. Mr. Megna says the memory is still painful nearly four decades later. Joe Megna lost his father in the Farmington No. 9 Mine explosion in November 1968, when he was 16. Emilio D. Megna was one of 78 men killed and one of 19 whose bodies were never recovered.
Joe Megna and his mother had to take jobs, she at a box factory, he pumping gas for 75 cents an hour.
"My mom got $10,000" as a pay-out settlement from the Consolidation Coal Co. "I couldn't afford to go to college."
The grieving teen would escape to Pendleton County, to the trout stream he and his father had fished many times. "I did a lot of fishing in those days. I later took my own son there, and now my grandson. I don't think he realizes how important a place it is to me."
Before his father worked his last shift, he took his son to a friend's house to spend the night. The next morning, from his bed, he heard his friend's mother asking which mine his dad worked in. "I got up and said, 'No. 9,' and she said, 'Well, it blew.'
"I took off running with just my pants on, running over the hill to my house, and when I got home, my sister was fixing her hair. I said, 'Turn the TV on. There's a mine explosion, and Dad's in it.'
"My mom drove us. We stood in the bitter cold, waiting. It was hours. I thought of that when I saw Gov. Manchin comforting those families. We had nobody come up to us. It would have meant so much."
Considering the families of Sago, he said, "Nobody knows anybody else's pain, but if I had any advice [for children], it's what I was always told: Be a leader and not a follower."
Back at the Sago church, Mr. Griffin and his wife commented on the quiet. A week before, the police were turning away the curious, and the parking lot was a mud pit. Someone since had delivered gravel to it. Baskets of flowers sat on tree stumps. Blue showed through breaks in the clouds, and the breeze was springlike.
"A month from now," said Mr. Griffin, "when another big story comes along and takes its place, these families will still be struggling. Their stories still need to be told."

Breakdown at Sago Mine: Chapter Eight / InvestigationSunday, January 15, 2006
Thirteen days after the mine exploded, investigative teams had yet to enter the shaft to search for answers.
Crews still were trying to fully ventilate the mine. Barricades that direct air flow into the work areas must be reconstructed. No trace of poisonous gas can be present when investigators move in.
But efforts to learn what happened began immediately after the explosion.
Emergency officials checked gas wells that dot the area, but found no drop in pressure to indicate a well had leaked into the mine.
Mine Safety and Health Administration officials said Sago had no history of high methane levels. Coal dust also could have ignited.
Meteorologists at Vaisala Inc., which measures weather under contract to the National Weather Service, reported three lightning strikes near the mine in the hours bracketing the explosion.
A roof fall, common in the old Second Left section before it was sealed in December, could create sparks that ignited either gas or coal dust.
"There's been a lot of talk and theories about what happened. But until we can get into the mine and examine it, we don't know," said Robert Friend, MSHA second-in-command.
As families of the 12 miners prepared to bury their dead last weekend, the mine owners and federal and state officials began meeting at a hotel on the outskirts of Buckhannon, the Upshur County seat. They laid out a plan for opening the mine for investigators.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin appointed J. Davitt McAteer, former MSHA head, to oversee the state's end of the investigation. A team of MSHA officials has been assigned to spearhead the U.S. Department of Labor's side of the inquiry.
Establishing how events unfolded will be something akin to the way highway patrol officers try to reconstruct a car accident.
"It's the same approach, in that every bit of evidence is very crucial," said Richard Begley, a former mine boss and now an engineering professor at Marshall University in West Virginia.
Investigators have some clues, including a rough timeline written by one of the trapped miners, and a place to start: Rescue workers discovered that all of the seals on the closed-off old Second Left section had been blown toward the surface, indicating that was where the explosion occurred.
"With an explosion, you want to know where and how it was initiated," said Terry Farley, a member of the state investigative team. "We want to know how the fuel came to be, the buildup of gases, how that came about. That's not uncommon in a sealed area."
To pinpoint the cause, the investigation team is likely to look for charring and other burn patterns, said Chris Hamilton, a former mine foreman and mine rescue instructor who is now senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association. And they will want to ask miners who escaped to describe conditions in the mine just before the explosion, he said.
They will record where the bodies found, where their footprints headed, where equipment was left.
They will pore over records from the mine and interview everyone involved in the rescue effort.
Past investigations by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration looked at whether methane detectors were working, and studied barometric pressure readings around the time of the accident, said Ellen Smith, editor of the newsletter Mine Safety and Health News.
Autopsies and toxicology reports could help investigators establish how long the miners were alive. Investigators also will probably try to reconstruct what the miners did in the wake of the explosion, said Max Houck, a former FBI scientist who is director of West Virginia University's Forensic Science Initiative.
"They're going to be leaving behind traces, clues if you will," Mr. Houck said.