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Veteran Miner Saw Danger, Led His Group To Safety With AM-Mine Disaster, Bjt

June 4, 1988

BORKEN, West Germany (AP) _ In the frantic minutes after an explosion rocked the Borken mine, veteran miner Thomas Gepperth led his tiny group from the deadly carbon monoxide to survival in what West Germans have dubbed ″The Miracle of Borken.″

Before Gepperth and his five colleagues were found, officials repeatedly had said none of the 57 men trapped could have survived. Thirty-seven were confirmed dead and 14 were missing.

The six men, their faces blackened, were pulled to the surface on stretchers over a 45-minute period beginning at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. The group had spent 65 hours about 500 feet underground after the explosion that blasted the Stolzenbach mine with earthquake-like force.

The tall, blond Gepperth, 36, stood calmly with the others - four West Germans and one Turk - as they posed for photographers after washing up. The five were identified as Helmut Gesner, Heinz Roese, Egon Dehn and Wilfried Doench and Ahmet Batkan.

″Everybody was making their last wills and testaments,″ Gepperth said as he appeared after the dramatic rescue. ″I told them they didn’t have to.″ His brief remarks were made in an interview with state television.

″I never gave up. I always said, ’They’ll make it and get us out of here,‴ Gepperth said.

Another survivor, also interviewed on state television but not identified by name, said the survivors heard drilling on Friday, but then the noises temporarily stopped.

″That was really agonizing, because nothing more was going on up there. ″You start thinking, ’Have they forgotten us or something? Maybe they’re figuring it’s not worth it.‴

The man said that in the hours of waiting, he began to ″see lights that aren’t really there.″

Heinz Cramer, a board member of the company that owns the mine, gave an account of the survival.

He said the group tried to flee toward the exit after the explosion.

″The mining superviser (Gepperth), who is also a member of the mine’s rescue squad, recognized it was carbon monoxide poisoning,″ he continued.

Cramer said Gepperth ordered his men to turn away from the direction of the exit, from where the poison was coming, and walk toward an air pocket.

″So they turned around and found shelter in one of the side areas,″ Cramer said. ″(Gepperth) told them to remain quiet and calm so they would preserve the oxygen.″

″You can certainly call Gepperth’s actions something special. He reacted in exactly the right way,″ he said.

A man who identified himself as Egon Dehn’s brother-in-law said the six kept their spirits up by recalling a 1963 mining accident in the Lower Saxony region in which 11 men were rescued after two weeks. The 1963 accident has become known as the ″Miracle of Lengede,″ after the mining town where it occurred - and West Germans quickly dubbed the Saturday rescue ″The Miracle of Borken.″

Cramer said search efforts were being stepped up following unconfirmed reports that two more survivors may be in a nearby area.

″It’s a faint hope, but a superviser said there were tracks of two people who may also be in an area where they may have survived,″ Cramer said.

Peter-Carl Ruehland, a spokesman for the mine owner Preussen Elektra, declined to speculate on how much longer the six men could have survived in the mine.

″To the right and to the left of where they were, the levels of carbon monoxide were rising,″ Ruehland said.

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