Injured rescuers keeping a low profile
But friends, family hail them as heroes
By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune
September 14, 2007
PRICE - You might call them "The Silent Six."
The injured rescue workers who were rushed to the hospital last month after a second, fatal "bump" on Aug. 16 at the Crandall Canyon mine have doggedly avoided public recognition.
And while Utah's coal community has kept their identities a closely guarded secret, some names have begun to surface.
The good news is that at least two of them, Casey Metcalf of Price and Randy Bouldin of Huntington, say they're "OK" and "all right." That's pretty much all they'll say.
Meanwhile, Frank Markosek, a mine-safety inspector working alongside the rescue crews to unearth six miners who had been trapped 10 days earlier, is healing at home from injuries to his brain, bones and eye, said his daughter, Tammy Ardohain.
Like the families of other injured rescuers, Markosek's came forward reluctantly. They've been determined to keep the focus on the six miners who died in the massive cave-in Aug. 6 and the three rescuers who lost their lives in the second implosion, or "bump," 10 days later.
Markosek declined an interview. But his daughter, brimming with pride for her father, told his story.
"He doesn't see himself as a hero," Ardohain said. "He sees himself as doing a job that needed to be done to help others."
Markosek, 57, had spent more than 25 years in central Utah coal mines before signing on as an inspector with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) eight years ago. A kind and private family man, he also was known for his performances on the accordion and organ as one of the Argons, a local oldies rock group.
Because one of the family cars was idled in early August, Ardohain had been driving her dad to work the week of the accident. She remembers feeling uneasy about the fact that his duties would take him into the mine tunnel where co-owner UtahAmerican Energy Co. and MSHA workers were working feverishly to clear the rubble from the Aug. 6 collapse in hopes of reaching the missing six miners.
"I don't know how to explain it," she recalled. "I kept asking him if he had to go I would ask him every day if he was going."
He replied the same way he had when, as a child, she asked the same question. "He said, 'This is my job. I have to go and do my job. I have to go.' "
She heard about the 6:39 p.m. cave-in within an hour and called her mother. Both worked the phones, calling co-workers and anyone else who might know something until her husband told her Markosek had been sent to the emergency room at Castleview Hospital in Price.
It wasn't until 9 p.m. that they saw Markosek, whose injuries were all the more shocking because he seemed to his family "almost invincible." Hospital staff led Ardohain, her mother and sister, Teri, to see Markosek, who, they were told, could remember his name and Social Security number.
Coal and dried blood smudged his face. His left eye socket had been crushed. He was swathed in bedding up to his neck, which was wrapped in a neck collar.
"He doesn't remember any of it," said Ardohain, who remembers his faraway look when she and her mother asked if he knew they were there. "He remembers the helicopter ride, but that was it."
Tammy and her mother drove to Utah Valley Medical Center in Provo, the nearest trauma center, where Markosek had been flown to. They stayed with him in the intensive care unit nearly until dawn.
Somewhere else in the hospital was Gary Jensen, an MSHA roof safety specialist who died of his injuries that night.
And it wasn't until the surgeries began at 11 a.m. the next morning that they learned the full extent of Markosek's injuries.
The implosion had crushed his left eye socket and smashed his forehead, tearing his brain. His neck, ribs, tailbone and leg were broken. The surgeries took seven hours.
Markosek's sister, her husband and his mother came from Phoenix during the surgery, as did his boss, Ted Farmer. Other visitors over the next nine days included U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Markosek went home three weeks ago with an excellent prognosis. He should recover fully in about eight months, Ardohain said. "He's strong, very strong, and motivated."
He's talking about tackling a new woodworking project. He can walk with a walker and his vision has fully returned. He plays with his only grandchild, Ardohain's 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Reese.
"He looks good," said Diana Johnson, a family friend.
While Markosek, Bouldin and Metcalf are mending from their injuries, many in the community still wonder about the three rescuers who have not come forward. While hundreds of thousands of dollars have poured into bank funds for families of those who died in Crandall Canyon, no one in the community seems to be aware of a similar fund for the injured rescuers.
Ardohain and Bouldin said they are not interested in money, although some of the injured workers find themselves in a bind now because of the layoffs that followed the mine disaster.
It is, they agreed, important that the injured rescuers are recognized for what they did.