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Briefing on Pennsylvania Mine Collapse

Aired July 26, 2002 - 07:44   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to get to Pennsylvania just outside Somerset, talking now about the latest recovery efforts there, searching for those nine miners. A press conference has begun.


GOV. MARK SCHWEIKER, PENNSYLVANIA: ... you can imagine their very emotional state, extremely concerned about what the future holds for their loved ones. And I assured them last night, as I mentioned already this morning in some earlier interviews, and I would restate today that, you know, it's my job to be there and to visit and be supportive and say that we are -- I assured them that we are doing everything we can in this rescue effort to bring up their family members.

And you know they're -- they are a remarkable group of people, probably over 100 family members there, babies, children, adults, and you know, they are -- they are mining families. They are tough, resilient, hopeful people, last night, prayerful people. We literally knelt in prayer, and it seemed like the right thing to do, given the tall order that awaits the rescuers. And I had an awful lot of long conversations.

And this morning, I'm going to head back up there after I answer your questions. And I have every reason to believe that they remain in the same state, are confident, and they are confident that we're doing everything we can.

After that, Joe and Dave Hess, the secretary of DEP, and I sat down. We had some briefings to conduct and some decisions to make, and got some sleep, as I'm sure you all did, and we didn't get much sleep. I don't know about you. I have a tough time getting sleep when you realize that just up the road here is a very significant rescue operation.

And so I got up this morning and was briefed again. And this brings me to my opening point, as far as the engineering and the mechanical effort that's under way.

Last night at about 11:45, we were down close to 100 feet. I was there last night at just before midnight. And that was the depth that we had reached. It went pretty well. I mean, we started drilling probably -- what -- four hours before that. And because it takes a while to prepare the rescue shaft, a lot of preparatory steps here, and maybe you have some questions about that, and maybe Joe can get into it. But it takes a while.

But we began drilling, and so in that -- you know, that four-hour stretch or so, and don't hold me to the specifics, we got down close to 100 feet. But then about 2:00 a.m. last night, we got stopped. I mean, we hit some -- we're not sure if it's coal or rock, but it not only stopped the drilling, it damaged -- well, to what extent, we don't know yet. We've got to retrieve it. We've got to bring it up, we are fishing for it now. But at 2:00 a.m., it effectively brought a halt to the drilling.

So a great early four-hour run, and we are stopped. And as I stand here today, and it was precisely explained to me at about 6:15 this morning, that's where we stand.

And there are two actions under way that I should mention. One, we have brought in -- we had brought in an item that will retrieve the damaged drill bit. They are beginning to send it down now, and you know, it's 50/50, about the likelihood of success. You know, we've got to bring it back up and replace it and begin anew. And as you know, you have been here, we've got at least 150 feet to go. And with just a guestimate, and I probably -- I'm not going to -- I am not going to venture a guess.

We've got quite a few hours of drilling on the first rescue shaft that we began to create yesterday. But I assure you, we're doing everything that's humanly and intellectually possible and mechanically-so to get down there and retrieve the head, the drill bit that's going to be so important as we create that 30-inch rescue shaft and bring up nine of our guys.

You know, I brought a -- I brought a bottle of water with me just to kind of, in a non-sophisticated way, demonstrate what we're going to try to do. This would be the drill bit that was about 100 feet down, and we hit that hard rock or whatever it is, it could be coal, and facing downward. And we're going to send equipment down that will kind of grab a hold of it, and you've got to kind of screw it and that you tighten it up and you bring it up. But it's 50/50.

And you know, we are confident, it's -- you know, as Joe will tell you, there have been times when, like clockwork, it got done. You grabbed it and brought it right back up. And there have been times where it's taken hours. So you know, that puts you in a very prayerful mood, but they are a determined group of mining and rescue experts up there, and they're on it.

At the same time, we are beginning the preparation of a second rescue shaft, probably 75 feet from the original hole. And that itself -- you know, that endeavor is going to take -- just the preparation -- just the preparation of that, you know, the pouring of the concrete ,and it becoming firm so it can support the heavy equipment that will be placed atop it, so that you begin a second rescue shaft and that drilling, and that's going to take hours. And probably won't be under way, I am told -- and Joe can be specific, because this is a guy that's been doing this for over 30 years.

Before Joe comments, I do want to have Secretary Hess offer a remark or two, and then we'll get to your questions.

But back to the second prominent point, and it's this: We are beginning to stage and assemble the equipment to create a second rescue shaft.

So that's where we stand at this early hour on Friday, and we remain hopeful.

And with that, Dave (ph), anything you want to say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I think you covered it.

SCHWEIKER: Good to go? Friends, any questions?


SCHWEIKER: Probably after 11:00 a.m.


SCHWEIKER: I don't know. I don't want to -- I don't want to venture a response. I wasn't there.


SCHWEIKER: I mean, you can -- you can image, I mean...

HEMMER: All right, that's the governor of Pennsylvania. We can't pick up the questions from the reporters there. We can hear the answers, difficult to synchronize the two.

But the bottom line right now is they have got their work cut out for them. The governor said it a couple of times, a 50/50 percent chance of success right now.

Apparently, this drill bit, about 2:00 a.m. local time, which by our clock is about six hours ago, overnight was about 100 feet down into the ground. They had to go to about 250 feet, got stuck, the drill bit was damaged. Right now, they are trying to go in and extract it, pull it out, and put another one on.

And again, the chances right now are 50/50, but again, it's a race against time. And as they look at the clock here, Arthel and Jack, certainly it is a question that a lot of people are looking at right now as to whether or not they can, indeed, reach these miners in time if, indeed, these men, fingers crossed here, are still alive.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, they don't even know that at this point, do they?

HEMMER: Yes, indeed. And you know, the last time they had contact was 11:30 a.m. local time yesterday. So you know, you're coming up on the 20-hour mark for that right now, and it does not look good right now. Nonetheless, you know, hopes spring eternal, especially, you know, if you listen to the governor on that.

But just imagine the conditions down there.




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