Text of Randal McCloy Jr.'s letter
About three weeks before the explosion that occurred on January 2,2006, toward the end of our shift, Junior Toler and I found a gaspocket while drilling a bolt hole in the mine roof.
Our detectorconfirmed the presence of methane. We immediately shut down the roofbolter, and the incident was reported up the line to our superiors. Inoticed the following day that the gas leak had been plugged withglue normally used to secure the bolts.
The explosion happened soon after the day shift arrived at the mineface on January 2, right after we got out of the man-trip. I do notrecall whether I had started work, nor do I have any memory of theblast. I do remember that the mine filled quickly with fumes andthick smoke and that breathing conditions were nearly unbearable.The first thing we did was activate our rescuers, as we had beentrained.
At least four of the rescuers did not function. I shared myrescuer with Jerry Groves, while Junior Toler, Jesse Jones and TomAnderson sought help from others. There were not enough rescuers togo around.We then tried to return to the man-trip, yelling to communicatethrough the thick smoke. The air was so bad that we had to abandonour escape attempt and return to the coal rib, where we hung acurtain to try to protect ourselves. The curtain created an enclosedarea of about 35 feet.
We attempted to signal our location to the surface by beating on themine bolts and plates. We found a sledgehammer, and for a long timewe took turns pounding away. We had to take off the rescuers in orderto hammer as hard as we could. This effort caused us to breathe muchharder.
We never heard a responsive blast or shot from the surface.We eventually gave out and quit our attempts at signaling, sittingdown behind the curtain on the mine floor, or on buckets or cans thatsome of us found. The air behind the curtain grew worse, so I triedto lie as low as possible and take shallow breaths. While methanedoes not have an odor like propane and is considered undetectable, Icould tell that it was gassy
We all stayed together behind thecurtain from that point on, except for one attempt by Junior Tolerand Tom Anderson to find a way out. The heavy smoke and fumes causedthem to quickly return. There was just so much gas.We were worried and afraid, but we began to accept our fate. JuniorToler led us all in the Sinners Prayer.
We prayed a little longer,then someone suggested that we each write letters to our loved ones.I wrote a letter to Anna and my children. When I finished writing, Iput the letter in Jackie Weaver's lunch box, where I hoped it wouldbe found.As time went on, I became very dizzy and lightheaded. Some driftedoff into what appeared to be a deep sleep, and one person sittingnear me collapsed and fell off his bucket, not moving. It was clearthat there was nothing I could do to help him.
The last person Iremember speaking to was Jackie Weaver, who reassured me that if itwas our time to go, then God's will would be fulfilled. As my trapped co-workers lost consciousness one by one, the room grew still and Icontinued to sit and wait, unable to do much else. I have no idea howmuch time went by before I also passed out from the gas and smoke,awaiting rescue.
I cannot begin to express my sorrow for my lost friends and mysympathy for those they left behind. I cannot explain why I wasspared while the others perished. I hope that my words will offersome solace to the miners' families and friends who have endured whatno one should ever have to endure.
April 26, 2006Randal McCloy Jr.
April 28, 2006