Families struggle with latest bad news
Some still hold out hope while others just want to get the bodies out
By Kristen Moulton and Judy Fahys The Salt Lake Tribune August 26, 2007
HUNTINGTON - Families of the six trapped men in the Crandall Canyon mine grappled with the grim news Saturday night that a sixth borehole that pierced into the mine found only rubble and no sign of the missing miners.
For some, it was confirmation of what their hearts and minds had slowly come to believe - that the men likely perished in the mine collapse on Aug. 6.
For others, the news was no reason to lose hope in a miracle.
Cesar Sanchez, whose brother, Manuel Sanchez, is among the six trapped miners, represents both.
“If there's a miracle, we'd like to see one,” said Cesar Sanchez of Price, calling Saturday's news “not what we were hoping for.”
Yet, like other family members, Sanchez's concern now is that his brother does not remain buried under 1,800 feet of sandstone, dirt and coal 15 miles west of Huntington.
Sanchez said the trapped miners' families want to see a seventh hole bored into the mine to try to locate any survivors.
Terry Erickson of Price said the final two boreholes into the mountain, which revealed no life, stripped him of hope his brother, Don Erickson of Helper, would be found alive.
“We've kind of given that up,” Erickson said Saturday evening.
“We just want to get them out of there,” added Erickson. “We need to get them out of there one way or the other.'”
The two brothers went to work in the Crandall Canyon mine about three years ago, but Terry Erickson said he quit last year after UtahAmerican Energy acquired the mine and began taking away bonus pay and holidays. He now works in a Wyoming coal mine and commutes home to Price on his days off.
Don Erickson, who worked at Helper Auto and for a coal-hauling company before taking the miner's job, remained at Crandall Canyon mine.
In Emery County to the south, Sheila Phillips said she doesn't know whether to use the past or present tense when talking of her son, Brandon, 24.
“He was beautiful,” she said Saturday. “He is beautiful. I guess I'm not sure yet.”
Brandon had been working at the Crandall Canyon mine just three weeks, lured by high pay that could have allowed him and his 5-year-old son to move out of his parents' Orangeville home.
Brandon, his mother said, would not be dissuaded from becoming a miner, even though he knew of the pain his family endured when his uncle, Ray Snow, died in the Wilberg mining disaster of 1984. Snow was Sheila Phillips' brother.
Brandon was just a 1-year-old at the time, and the tragedy was not a constant theme in the home, Sheila Phillips said.
“That was what he was determined to do.”
At Emery High School just down the road from the Phillips home, about 100 people gathered to raise money for the miners at a benefit organized by Utah's cowboy poets.
Former Brigham Young University and NBA basketball standout Shawn Bradley - an Emery High grad - played host at the event, and Huntington Mayor Hilary Gordon accepted a framed poem for the three rescuers who were killed, the six who were injured and the six who are trapped.
Gordon said the information from the sixth borehole, though tragic in its implications, might help the families reach some resolution about the miners caught in the cave-in nearly three weeks ago.
“It would give me some comfort . . . that my loved one was not gasping for air, that he did not suffer,” she said.
In recent days, she said, the waiting and hoping was tearing at family members, filling the entire community with tension, sadness and grief.
“It was agony for those families,” she said.
After Saturday night's news, the families of Carlos Payan and Luis Hernandez stopped by Mission San Rafael, a Catholic church, outside Huntington. They heard about the prayers on their behalf from people near and far.
A friend said they were not ready to make a public statement, but that they remain hopeful.
___________________________________________________________United States Mine Rescue Association