Mine Tragedy: 'We Want To Know Why' - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/4/06-Tallmansville, West Virginia

Mine Tragedy: 'We Want To Know Why'

Joy turned to sorrow in three short hours Wednesday for relatives of a dozen men found dead in a West Virginia coal mine. "Miscommunication" spawned early reports of their survival.

Just before midnight, miners' families thought the men were alive after 41 hours of entrapment. An ambulance rushed one miner to a hospital in critical condition as church bells rang in celebration.

By 3 a.m. mine company chief Ben Hatfield announced that 12 of the 13 were dead.

There had been a tragic "miscommunication," Hatfield said.

Hatfield's announcement sent Anna Casto, who lost her cousin, into a tirade.

"No, he strictly told us they was alive," Casto said. "Three hours later he come back and said they wasn't."

"We want to know why, and how people can get by with this," she said.

Casto said the tragedy has shaken the faith of some in the community. "We have got some of us ... saying... that we don't even know if there is a Lord anymore," she said. "We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us."

Three hours of joy

  • 11:53 p.m. -- Church bells ring as reports first indicate that 12 miners have been found alive.

  • 2:14 a.m. -- A man is rescued and taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition after being trapped underground since Monday morning. (Watch a friend recount waiting on the porch for hugs -- 7:23)

  • 2:44 a.m. -- Miners' relatives say they had been told all but one of the miners were dead.

  • 3:11 a.m. -- Hatfield, president and CEO of International Coal Group, which owns the Sago Mine, announces that despite previous reports, only one survivor was found in the mine. (Timeline)

    Hatfield called it the "worst day of my life."

    Critical condition

    The sole survivor, Randal McCloy, 27, was in critical condition in intensive care Wednesday at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

    "He suffered some collapse of one of his lungs," said Dr. Larry Roberts. "And we're trying to reopen that and there's good progress there."

    Roberts said McCloy was sedated and attached to a breathing tube, but was moving and responding to stimuli.

    "We hope that we will try to awaken him later today or tomorrow," the doctor said.

    President Bush offered comfort on Wednesday saying, "We send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to the loved ones whose hearts are broken. We ask that the good Lord comfort them in their time of need."

    Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said the Mine Safety and Health Administration was launching an investigation to determine the cause of the tragedy. Hatfield also said an investigation would be conducted.

    'Who do we tell?'

    Hatfield said he knew within 20 minutes that an error had been made and that not all 12 were alive, but said he did not inform jubilant family members.

    "We couldn't correct the information without knowing more about it," he told reporters. "Let's put this in perspective -- who do we tell not to celebrate? All I knew is, there weren't 12 people that were alive. It was somewhere between 12 and zero."

    Hatfield said he understood family members' anger.

    "I'm not surprised or upset with them. They certainly have some basis for their frustration, having been put through this emotional roller-coaster. I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

    Hatfield said the miscommunication occurred between rescue crews and the command center, causing the earlier erroneous reports.

    Miners were alive after accident

    Hatfield said it was apparent that the miners, who were found 13,000 feet into the mine, remained alive after the explosion of unknown origin that began their ordeal. They had built a "rough barricade structure," he said, and had donned their self-contained breathing apparatuses. The apparatuses held one hour of oxygen; Hatfield said he had no way of knowing how long the miners were alive.

    The rescue team that found the miners was speaking to the command center over mine communication system on an open speaker audible to a number of people, Hatfield said. He noted the company made no formal announcement that the 12 were alive, but said he would not single out any rescuers, as they were trying to save the miners' lives.

    "The honest answer is, we were devastated," he said. "It's sorrow beyond belief ... Welcome to the worst day of my life."

    'Some wrong communications'

    West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin -- who flashed a thumbs-up on the steps of the church and said, "believe in miracles," after hearing the initial report that the 12 were alive -- called the situation "heart-wrenching."

    He said he was in another room of the church with some family members when "we heard families in a euphoric state, and all the shouting and screaming and joyfulness." He asked what was happening, he said, and was told, "They found them. They're alive."

    Manchin said he asked his communications people if they had confirmed that information, and they said no. But he was caught in the sea of jubilant relatives streaming out of the church, and the church bells began ringing, he said. He said he was "in a euphoric state, the same as they are."

    It was about 20 minutes later, he said, when he also became aware of "some wrong communications." The delay in informing relatives, he said, came because officials were trying to get accurate information instead of adding to the confusion. He said he understood the family's pain, as his own uncle died in a 1968 mine accident.

    "To put blame on anybody -- it's the wrong time, the wrong place," Manchin said. "Everybody has worked so hard. The rescue teams have worked around the clock. They've come from all over the country."

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