Tragedy stunned rescuers
The tip-top Henderson Mine team fully expected to find the five workers alive.
October 4, 2007
In 33 years, the rescue teams at the Henderson Mine, 22 miles from the tragedy at Xcel Energy's Cabin Creek power plant, have never been used in a tragedy. But they practice all the time.
Earlier this year - pitted in a contest against mine rescue teams from across the United States - they placed first in the first-aid competition.
Tragically, they couldn't use first aid Tuesday.
The Henderson rescue team found the five maintenance workers dead, something they didn't expect, said Jim Arnold, the general manager of the Henderson Mine who accompanied his two teams.
"We were pretty hopeful we were going to get in there and find those guys," Arnold said.
"I mean the air was moving in the right direction. That's all they needed. We knew they weren't going to starve to death. We didn't have a problem with the roof coming down. We didn't have a problem with them dying of thirst.
"You just feel awful bad for the families when you come out of there with something like that. You've got five dead men - the heartache that just cascades down from something like that."
Arnold said the Henderson rescue squad started at the bottom of the shaft while the fire was still burning inside. They climbed up a 2-degree slope for about 1,500 feet; then another 1,500 feet going up a slope of 10 degrees and finally they climbed 1,000 feet up a shaft with a 55-degree angle.
When they reached the area of the fire, it had burned out.
Arnold would not go into the details about where the dead workers were found.
But he said he takes pride in what the Henderson teams did.
"I am proud of the guys. The professionalism," he said. "I mean they were going into an atmosphere where five men had died. We didn't know those guys were dead. But there was no doubt in anybody's mind that they were going into a life-threatening situation."