A faint flicker of hope
Crandall Canyon Mine: Robotic cameras, seventh borehole planned as rescue effort begins Week 4
By Mike Gorrell The Salt Lake TribuneArticle Last Updated: 08/27/2007 11:28:19 AM MDT
- A robot has been deployed in the effort to locate six Crandall Canyon coal miners missing for three weeks after the mine's walls collapsed. Rescue organizers said Sunday they would attempt to lower a robot equipped with two cameras through one of two boreholes drilled into the "bleeder" tunnels at the back of the section where the miners were working Aug. 6 when the catastrophic collapse occurred.
Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration official Jack Kuzar emphasized that "it's a long shot. I repeat, it's a long shot. But we owe it to the families to do everything we can to find their loved ones."
This high-tech gamble, along with news that mine Press release from UtahAmerican Energy, Inc. co-owner Murray Energy Corp. will drill a seventh borehole, did raise the battered psyches of family members whose every-other hope of locating their miners - Manuel Sanchez, Brandon Phillips, Juan Carlos Payan, Luis Alonso Hernandez, Don Erickson and Kerry Allred - has been dashed.
The most recent disappointment came Saturday evening when the No. 6 borehole pierced the tunnel where the men were last mining, but determined it was filled to the brim with rubble from the blown-out walls.
"The families were encouraged that there was more activity going on. They were pleased to hear that efforts were continuing no matter how much of a long shot it is," said Edward Havas, a Salt Lake City attorney whose firm has been retained by several of the trapped miners' families to represent them.
"Any information we can glean is preferable to not having that information. We're hopeful that something will come of these efforts," he added. Havas was troubled, however, to hear mine owner Robert Murray reiterate Sunday that he intends to seal the mine after crews remove machinery between the entrance and the 2,500-foot-long area that filled with rubble when the walls imploded.
Repeating what he told MSHA officials on Aug. 17, the day after a second explosive outburst from the walls killed three rescuers and injured six others, Murray said "I'm closing it. That's an evil mountain and there's never been any question about [closure] since. . . . We'll put steel bars across the front of it or fencing so no one can get in, post guards there, let it sit and we'll decide later what we do with it." Responded Havas: "We understand that they want to recover their equipment, but I think our No. 1 priority has to be recovering these miners. It's not acceptable to the families or to [their attorneys] to seal this mountain up as long as those people are in there and if there's any possible hope of safely recovering them."
He did not take any consolation in Murray's plan to use steel bars or fencing rather than concrete or a more durable seal.
"What's more important to us is intent," Havas said. "If the intent is to seal this mountain and leave it, that's not acceptable, no matter what the mechanism is. If the intent is to keep the mine intact and allow access to it again in the future, that will be less objectionable."
The robotic search will take place before any seals are completed. Kuzar said rescue organizers have been "working on this robot since day one [of the search], but we didn't want to give anyone false hope." It arrived at the mine site Friday night.
Robin Murphy, director of the Institute for Safety Security Research Technology at the University of South Florida, said the 8-inch-wide robot would be lowered down either borehole No. 3 or No. 4 sometime Sunday evening.
The robot team, which spent 11 hours Saturday testing the equipment, will decide which hole to use based on the likelihood of getting it through the broken but twisted wire mesh along the roof of the tunnel. She said it will take one hour to lower the robot down the shaft and then it will be manipulated along the tunnel floor, which is not covered with much rubble in that area. It will then use two cameras to look around the underground environment for an undetermined length of time. No timetable has been set for when images could come.
"We'll move slowly, look very thoroughly, move forward, look very thoroughly," she said. "It's a very laborious process. . . . We have no reason to move fast." Through spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley, Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. praised the decision to utilize the robot. "The governor has asked for every technology possible to at least be looked at," she said. The No. 7 borehole is targeted at the area where miners store their lunch buckets and would have been a likely place for them to go - if they had time.
The drill is expected to penetrate the mine Tuesday or Wednesday. It was within an area targeted by the first borehole, but that small shaft drifted as it was drilled through the mountain. Havas said the families had long pushed for rescue organizers to look for their men there.