Mine safety chief: Still too dangerous to look for bodies
Deseret Morning News
October 12, 2007
More than two months after the disaster, the Crandall Canyon mine still is too dangerous to try to recover the bodies of six men, the government's mine-safety chief said Friday. Richard Stickler said the issue came up during a private meeting Thursday in Huntington with relatives of the miners who were trapped more than 1,500 feet below ground during the Aug. 6 cave-in.
"We've left the door open on that. ... I didn't tell them it was impossible," said Stickler, head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. "I told them we didn't have a safe way to do it at this time."
He said seismic activity still is occurring at the mountain, 120 miles south of Salt Lake City in Emery County.
A recovery effort would involve tunneling through rubble that is supporting walls inside the mine, Stickler said.
"That would create an unsafe condition," he said in an interview with The Associated Press before boarding a plane for Washington, D.C.
Stickler said he was in Utah to also meet with MSHA staff, who are investigating the Crandall Canyon collapse and what lessons can be learned. Three people died in another cave-in Aug. 16 while trying to clear a path toward the six victims.
"We would all like to have answers yesterday," he said. "Historically, investigations take eight months to 16 months.
"I'm not close enough to the accident investigation to know what they're learning," Stickler said. "As soon as they have enough information, I want to be informed."
If changes in mine safety are necessary, "we want to implement them as soon as possible," he said.
MSHA's reputation has taken a beating in Congress. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., last week released a report from another federal agency that warned about conditions at Crandall Canyon in 2004. MSHA apparently never saw it.
"I'm not going to get into that," Stickler replied when asked if Democrats in the House and Senate were unfairly treating his agency. "They have their role to play. We're trying to do the job the best we can."
He said he has not talked to the mine's co-owner, Bob Murray of Murray Energy Corp., since August.
Stickler told the Deseret Morning News that at one point during the recovery efforts, he asked the Emery County sheriff to keep Murray away from daily briefings with families because of his loud, aggressive style in answering questions.
The search for the six miners was suspended Aug. 31.
"We tried to work together as a team, but now that's over. That teamwork has ended," Stickler told the AP, referring to Murray.
Utah is considering whether to inspect mines for safety.
"Certainly two eyes are better than one. ... I don't think there's any problem with that," Stickler said.