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Pa. Mine Rescue Options Limited

July 26, 2002

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PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The frustrating stop-and-go drilling effort to save nine men trapped in a flooded Pennsylvania coal mine is still the best way to reach them, experts said Friday.

Mark Radomsky, director of field services for Penn State’s Miner Training Program, said other options ``posed too many risks.″ Experts said sending divers through the dark flooded shaft wasn’t safe.

``The distance is too great,″ said Joseph Main, health and safety administrator for the United Mine Workers of America.

Besides encountering fallen timber and other debris, divers would have to navigate pillars of coal in near-zero visibility and could easily get lost.

``I would think even in swimming pool conditions (that) would be extreme for diving,″ said Rob McGee, secretary of the United States Mine Rescue Association.

The men were trapped Wednesday night after piercing the wall of another mine filled with millions of gallons of water. They were believed to be huddled in a tiny air bubble 240 feet underground.

Rescuers were drilling two escape holes down to the men, a job expected to take hours. The effort suffered a setback early Friday when a 1,500-pound drill bit broke 100 feet down.

The drilling equipment being used isn’t standard at a mine. Outfitting the Ingersoll-Rand RD20 drill, one of those being used, would cost about $1 million, said Ron Buell, an Ingersoll-Rand marketing manager.

``I wouldn’t think a mine would normally want to have one on site,″ Buell said. The RD20 is designed for natural gas and water exploration.

Because of the ``room-and-pillar″ excavation method used in the mine and ``given the depth from the surface″ drilling is the best option, McGee said.

``They’re doing the best they can with what they have to work with,″ he added.

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