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Teamwork helped miners survive underground

John Unger, 52, of Hollsopple, Pennsylvania, was the fourth miner rescued early Sunday morning.
John Unger, 52, of Hollsopple, Pennsylvania, was the fourth miner rescued early Sunday morning.  

SOMERSET, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- The nine Pennsylvania workers rescued from the flooded Quecreek coal mine relied on teamwork to help each other get through their 77-hour ordeal, one of the miners said Sunday.

"Everybody had strong moments," Harry B. Mayhugh told reporters after being released from Somerset Hospital in Somerset. (Transcript)

"But any certain time maybe one guy got down, and then the rest pulled together," Mayhugh said. "And then that guy would get back up, and maybe someone else would feel a little weaker, but it was a team effort. That's the only way it could have been."

Huddling to stay warm, trapped 240 feet below the surface, the miners were never certain help was on the way, he said.

"We heard the big drill on and off, but we thought maybe they couldn't find us or maybe they broke down," Mayhugh said. "We didn't know what to think."

Mayhugh recalled his anticipation as he was hoisted to the surface. "You were like, just, please, just get me up out of here."

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  •  Timeline: What happened, and when

Mayhugh, his wife, Leslie, by his side, was emotional at times as he described his experience.

"It was Thursday, about noon, and the water started rising and we was running out of room. I asked the boss if we had a pen -- and he knew what for -- I said I wanted to write my wife and kids -- to tell them that I love them," he said.

"The only day of my life I never kissed my wife before I went to work, and that had to be the day there," Mayhugh said.

President Bush expressed relief Sunday that the rescue effort was a success, a spokesman said.

"He was thrilled to know that all of the miners had been rescued, were reunited with their families and were doing fine," said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman.

Joyful reunion

Six miners were taken to Memorial Hospital, where two were in fair condition and four were in good condition, Dumire said.

They were listed as crew boss Randy Fogle, Dennis Hall, John Phillippi, Tom Foy -- Mayhugh's father-in-law -- John Unger, and Robert Pugh.

Three of those in good condition were released Sunday afternoon, but their identities were not released.

Capt. Henry Schwartz, a Navy undersea medical officer working with the rescuers, said one of the miners appeared to be suffering from decompression illness, caused by the difference in atmospheric pressures below and above ground.

That man, whose name was not released, was put in a pressure chamber at Memorial for several hours Sunday.

Three miners -- Mayhugh, Ron Hileman, and Mark Popernack -- were taken to Somerset Hospital in Somerset in satisfactory condition. They were all released by Sunday afternoon.

Mayhugh and the other miners reunited with family members at the hospitals.

"There were tears of joy flowing everywhere at the time, both from the miners and the family," said trauma surgeon Russell Dumire of Memorial Medical Center.

Dumire said the men looked "exceptionally well" after their three-day ordeal.

"If you were to see any of these guys on the street right now, you would not know they were trapped in a cavern full of water for three days," he said.

Dumire said one miner had developed some shoulder pain that could be a symptom of decompression sickness.

Dumire said he saw no evidence of post-traumatic stress among the men.

"They're all quite calm, cool and collected, and they all want to get on with things," he said.

Cheers from rescuers

Miners hug after their co-workers were rescued from the flooded shaft. From left are Larry Summerville, Doug Custer and Jim Weiland.
Miners hug after their co-workers were rescued from the flooded shaft. From left are Larry Summerville, Doug Custer and Jim Weiland.  

One by one, the nine soggy and exhausted miners, their faces blackened with coal dust, were pulled from the mine early Sunday after being trapped underground for more than three days.

The last one pulled from the 240-foot-deep shaft was Mark Popernack, 41, who emerged at 2:45 a.m. and gave his rescuers a thumbs-up.

The first miner, Randy Fogle, 43, who had complained of chest pains, was taken by helicopter to Memorial Medical Center. Dr. Richard Saluzzo said Fogle was hypothermic, meaning his temperature was low, but he was lucid and was undergoing an electrocardiogram to evaluate his heart.

"We're warming him up," Saluzzo said. "Then we'll do the blood work and usual work-up for any heart problems."

The second miner, Mayhugh, was brought out about 15 minutes later, followed after a similar interval by Tom Foy, 51. John Unger, 52, was the fourth man pulled to the surface, and he was followed by John Phillippi. Ron Hilemand, 49, was raised at 2:10 a.m. Dennis J. Hall, 49, followed at 2:20. a.m. Then Robert Pugh Jr., 50, became the eighth miner to be rescued about 10 minutes later.

They were met by applause and cheers from crews who had been working around the clock to save the men.

The rescued miners were helped from the metal cage they rode up from the mine, placed on stretchers and then taken to be examined by medical personnel at the site.

The men were discovered alive late Saturday after workers drilled a rescue shaft down to an air pocket where the men had found refuge. They had been there since Wednesday night when millions of gallons of water from an adjacent, long-abandoned mine crashed through into the Quecreek mine.

'This is a miracle'

A drilling crew punched a hole into the air pocket at 10:16 p.m. Saturday, according to reports from the scene. Rescuers lowered a telephone down an air shaft 6 inches in diameter and made contact with the miners a short time later, officials said.

"This is a miracle," said John Weir, a spokesman for Black Wolf Coal Co., the mine's owner.

"All nine are alive, and we believe that all nine are in pretty good shape," Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker said.

Before Saturday night, rescue workers last heard from the miners at noon Thursday, when they tapped on the air pipe. After then, noise and vibration caused by the rescue efforts made further communication impossible.

The men began banging on the air pipe less than a minute after the drill broke through Saturday night, said Dave Lauriski, assistant secretary of mine safety and health for the U.S. Labor Department.

"We had a lot of people get very excited, but we kept everybody calm until we knew what the conditions were, that we knew we had all nine miners," Lauriski said.

Rescuers kept warm, compressed air pumping through airways to preserve the air pocket.

The mine is about 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Miners had broken through into an adjacent mine that had filled with an estimated 50 million-plus gallons of water since it was abandoned in the 1950s.

"All of a sudden a call came in on the walkie-talkie," said Doug Custer, a co-worker of the trapped men, who escaped the flooded mine. "They said, 'We hit water -- get out.' In a mine, we joke around a lot, but we know a call like this is serious so we dropped our tools, shut off the machinery and got out of there as fast as we could." (Full story)

-- CNN Correspondents Brian Palmer, Jeff Flock and journalist Jeff Goodell contributed to this report.




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