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Rescue of miners is powerful saga of hope, determination



Published: Tue, July 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Every once in a while a story comes along just at the time America seems to need it most.

Such a story captures the hearts and minds of readers and viewers. It demonstrates that men and women working together can overcome great odds and accomplish great things. It gives people an opportunity to use the word miracle.

And such a story played out late last week and into the wee hours of Sunday in the coalfields of Somerset County, Pa., not far from another Somerset field where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed to earth September 11.

This time, however, the drama ended not in death, but in life. This time, the tears were those of joy and the shouts were of exaltation.

Nine western Pennsylvania miners, who had survived for 77 hours in 55-degree water, while hastily assembled crews used huge drill bits to cut through 240 feet of soil and rock, were pulled one by one from a coal mine that could well have become their tomb.

Combination of factors

It was a remarkable story of hard work, technological expertise, mining savvy and, according to more than one person, divine intervention that led to the rescue.

Experts agree that while the men were removed through a 30-inch shaft dug over a period of three days, it was a 6-inch shaft drilled the first day that saved the miners lives. And the positioning of that shaft was done by instinct. Using maps of the mines, rescuers determined the most likely high ground in which the miners would seek refuge, and that's were they drilled.

The shaft, which was right on the money, allowed crews to pump pressurized warm air into the mine, which fended off hypothermia and equalized pressure so that the miners could be extracted quickly once the larger shaft was done, rather than have to go through a decompression process.

As rescuers cheered and clapped while the miners were pulled to safety, millions of Americans enjoyed the quiet satisfaction that comes with a happy ending.




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