Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ex-miner is troubled by disaster

Ex-miner is troubled by disasterDeseret News - Salt Lake City,UT,USAAugust 26, 2007

Blake Hanna of Price knows this about mining: Disasters happen. In 1963, at the age of 27, he was among 25 miners trapped inside the Cane Creek potash mine in Moab after a gas explosion. Hanna spent 19 hours underground before being one of seven who survived.
In 1984, at the age of 48, he was part of a Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) team that helped organize rescue attempts at the Wilberg mine outside Price after fire trapped and killed 27 miners.
Now retired at 71, Hanna has spent the month watching and waiting as the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster near Huntington has killed three rescuers and left six miners trapped.
"There's not a family in Carbon-Emery County who hasn't lost someone in the mines," says Hanna.
Such familiarity, however, doesn't make it any easier.
Like most folks with mining roots, Hanna has opinions about Crandall Canyon.
Because of where he's been and what he's seen, people tend to listen to him.
Among other things, he's saying this:
• It was "bad mining practices" that caused the cave-in.
• The buried miners need to be recovered, even if it means hauling out their bodies so they can be buried again.
• And if there's anything positive that can come out of this, it's a wake-up call that miners themselves need to blow the whistle on unsafe mine operations before tragedies occur. Citing the federal mining act, amended in 1977, Hanna says, "Miners have full rights to report anything they believe is endangering them to a hotline number, a toll-free number, that is posted at all the mines and does not identify who calls.
"We read about families who say they (the Crandall Canyon miners) were fearing for their safety," says Hanna. "Well, why didn't they use the hotline?"
Hanna notes that Crandall Canyon, in its way, was placing its own hotline calls. Seismic activity recorded as long ago as last March showed the mountain was unstable.
"They'd been warned. It seems like you're always pre-warned," says Hanna. "And yet they went right on and didn't learn."
Hanna has great empathy for the six trapped miners. He remembers those 19 hours he spent entombed in 1963 like it was yesterday.
"God saved me, and the rescuers went through pure hell to get to me, you couldn't say enough about them," he says.
That said, he's convinced the Crandall Canyon six, if still alive, "would never want someone to give up their life to save theirs."
Current conditions, in his opinion, are too dangerous.
"Over time, seismic activity should subside," says Hanna. "Then it could be feasible to send somebody down in a capsule. But right now we need to be logical."
Hanna points to the Wilberg disaster, where bodies weren't recovered for more than a year. But they were recovered.
"Families need to have that closure," says Hanna. "And there's plenty of money to do it. (Crandall Canyon Mine co-owner) Bob Murray is the 12th-largest coal mine operator in the United States. And it was his company that got those men trapped in the first place."
___________________________________________________________United States Mine Rescue Association