Friday, September 7, 2007

The Miners

The Miners

I was part of the newspapers coverage last Friday, when three men died inside a Gibson County, Ind. Coal Mine.
News of the accident was reported on national cable television stations and frequently updated throughout the afternoon and evening.
On-air talent and camera crews from tv stations-including several satelite trucks from Indianapolis-parked themselves at our cordoned off spot on the dusty road about a mile and a half from the ill fated air shaft.
The thought hit. What if three equally non-famouse people died in a house fire? or a car crash?
Would CNN and MSNBC be all over the story? Would news media from 160 miles away race to the scene to beam firast hand accounts?
I dont think so.
There's something about the haunting spector of working 1,000 feet below ground that mesmorizes most of us. The crawling around in low coal. The possibility of a roof fall. The possibility of being buried alive or dying an even more horrible death from running out of oxygen.
We cant imagine doing such a job for even five minutes. We readily concede that men who get coal out of the ground-or those who assist those that do-are much braver than we will ever be.
When something bad happened as it did in Utah and a week later in Southern Indiana-we are caught up in the tragic circumstances.
We want to know all about it. We want news reporters mobilized. We want tv satelite trucks from many miles away fired up and on the move.
Maybe there will be a dramatic rescue. Maybe early reports were wrong and nobody was badly hurt.
And if there is a death-even a single soul-we grieve because there is one less courageouse person in the world.
But tell us. Please. Most of us are completely ignorant of almost ever facet of underground mining.
We dont know what the hoist looks like. Or the machines that cut the coal. Or the belt lines.
We dfont understand how muddy it is underground. Or how there can be five miles or more of corridors. Or how a single spark can cause a catastrophe.
We dont know roof-and-pillar mining. We dont know retreat mining.
We can turn on our bedroom lights thanks to the coal thats mined and shipped to power plants. That we do know.
This lack of savvy draws our interest even more.
We've been in cars, we can understand accidents. We've been in houses, we can understand fires. But a dungeon of a coal mine escapes us.
The folks who work there eat there. Nobody rides the shaft up 1,000 feet for such a piddling thing as lunch.
They do without bathrooms, without daylight, without contact from the outside world. When something bad happens underground, miners cant just walk away.
They're trapped.
That we do understand, and it makes us shutter. But tell us about it, please.