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Pennsylvania Governor Schweiker Addresses Reporters

Aired July 27, 2002 - 07:42   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you now to the governor of Pennsylvania who's going to give us an update on this rescue of the coal miners out there. We're trying to get back to you ladies in just a minute. This is the governor, what he has to say.

GOV. MARK SCHWEIKER, PENNSYLVANIA: It was good for all of us at 6:15 this morning because I was able to go up there and spend time with the families and I took up the drill leader from -- drill team leader from our rescue shaft two, because we've made significant progress as far as getting closer to the chamber.

And when I was able to both present, for the first time, up there -- the drill team leader from rescue shaft two, and have him talk turkey about the success of the last 11 hours, encouraging as it was, it was very encouraging to the families, too. So, and in fact, I'll get to this in a second, but I held up for them this. I don't know if you can see this. It's probably tough to see.

But it's -- germane to the point I'm trying to make here. This is limestone. From 155 feet down. And we're trying to reach 207 and ultimately 237, where the chamber likely is. But, if you are mindful of your loved ones precarious situation down there at 237 feet, and you show them limestone from 155 out of rescuer shaft 2, it is proof- positive that we are making progress. And, I did show them that. And, they were delighted. They are hopeful people as it is, and sober people through all of this.

But that was -- that served to buoy their spirits. I thought I'd really that to you and it was a wonderful way to start the morning. And, we've added a new twist there when we took up the drill team leader and they talked about what was going on there.

Let me move over to the engineering. And tell you where we stand. On rescue shaft one, we're down at about 134 foot. And, on rescue shaft two, and that's as of about 5 minutes ago, we're down about 161. So, we're making progress. Now, I know you've been attentive to the point that you know where we were with rescue shaft one as of even last night. And, you know, it didn't go well. Even up till this morning, am I right, Dave? They were still right around 105. And they just had a rough time with that big drill bit, 30-inch wide as it is -- as it was -- they moved to a smaller bit, 26, and they've made progress.

So, as we review the work in rescue shaft one, we are now down. We've progressed from the 105 down to the 134. Slow going there. And they ran into the limestone. You know, at rescue shaft one, too. If I can go back to this, as we talked about what slowed their dissension? This is tough stuff. This is limestone. We know it's in the ground, we may not know exactly how deep it is. But that's what slowed their progress and I can tell you if you stood next to rescue shaft two right now, they are just pounding, pounding, pounding through that limestone. And they believe that they're going to get through it real soon. That's the toughest strata.

Just below it is sandstone. Not as tough, but those -- the experts tell me that that's going to be not as tough but it's going to still be slow going. So, that's where we stand in rescue shaft one. You do now know that compared to two, two is making the greater progress; they're down at 161 and you know, with about 47 feet away from just slowing down and having them make an assessment about the condition of that life-sustaining chamber that we believe is just below them. So, we've made progress.

One other remark as it relates to the conditions that we hope awaits us. We are making tremendous progress at removing the water. We've probably have, if I'm quoting the right measure now. I think we've taken probably 30 foot of water out? 26 and we're aiming at 30. So, we're making a lot of progress there. We're still at a clip of about a foot an hour, and taking out at least 25 to 30,000 gallons per minute. And we've got pumps all over the place, and they're doing the job and taking it out. And, I think it's timely to talk about what may be an uncanny development.

In the sense -- in this sense -- as we talk about rescue shaft two, in going down, with about what we believe is about four to five hours more of drilling work -- and, as it relates to the presence of water and trying to drop the water level, we may have about four to five more hours of pumping to take us down to the 1830 that we need and it -- maybe a wonderful coincidence of favorable developments that the water could be out of there and as a result we don't face -- we may not face -- that alarming condition of piercing the ceiling and damaging that life-saving bubble that we worked so diligently over the last two and half days to create. That would be wonderful. We've got to watch the pace, you know, we are mindful of that as the hours go on here.

So, I would -- it's not always been dependable. And you certainly know that. But, we may in the next four to five hours, be at the point where if its safe beginning a rescue operation. Or beginning that phase of this rescue operation where the deep mine rescuers along with the rescue capsule are ready to go on in. And, so we are at this point -- and it was something that I had a chance to review last night at around 11:30, beginning to put through their practice paces the deep mine rescuers.

And the equipment is ready; they're ready to go, the decompression chambers are probably 600-700 foot from the rescue shafts. There are nine of them. And, at the ready. And, hopefully, mid-day, we will activate on that particular count. So that's what I would offer as far as the engineering updates, and in sum it's been a night of progress in contrast to the prior night where we had been slowed because of that damaged drill bit.

One other thing you should know, we are in the throes of moving the command center from the portal of the cave of the mine, I should say. And move it to the drill site, just up the road. And, there's good reason for that. You know, we have some very knowledgeable people who are giving oversight to the Army workers and technicians and mechanics that are at the drill site. We just need to bring them closer together to enhance communication, and at this point we -- because of that desire -- we are moving the command center from the portal of the cave and getting it over to the drill site.

So, we are making progress and I know the White House is mindful of our progress and how things transpired during the course of the night, going at 120 feet on rescue shaft two in the last 11 hours and I'll probably later this morning when we both have the opportunity to brief the president.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there was a representative of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Coal speaking to the press. Is there any reason why we haven't heard from him in the past couple of days?

SCHWEIKER: No particular reason. John's working hard and he's needed up there.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: What the future of the atomic detonator? What must happen to assess that chamber? How long is that process, and what are you looking for in progressing (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

SCHWEIKER: Well, we plan to move as quickly but as cautiously as we have to in that considered decision. Time, probably an hour. But, running parallel to that, it is fair to say that the deep mine rescuers will be readying themselves, so we'll not miss a beat. It's going to -- you know -- you've got to be thoughtful about it, and of course, we know that a overwhelmingly important dimension of the ultimate decision is the water level. And, you know, you've got to take stock there. And that's a big part of that hour.

QUESTION: You give us the number 237. I thought I heard earlier 247.

SCHWEIKER: No, it's 237.

QUESTION: Governor, you said at 237, you said after the chamber might be -- are you not 100 percent certain that you'll run into the chamber at that area?

SCHWEIKER: Well, if there's any uncertainty it's founded in the idea that it's well below the earth's surface and it's -- you know -- it's not a fine scientific measure, it's just -- it's not an educated guess, but it also doesn't lend itself to precise measurement.

You know, because it's cavernous and these mine shafts are literally all over the place and as we now know based on the experience of Wednesday evening, there's a chance inside to where these things are. So, that explains why the -- not an insignificant but slight variance in what we reference.


SCHWEIKER: Yeah, it -- we have to move -- I'm going to have Joe answer this and amplify it. But I'm told and because as I said yesterday part of my job is to ask the tough questions and get clarity on this thing because I have the family members ask me, too. You've got to move the pumps. And it takes time to move the pumps. So, why don't you -- Joe, why don't you illustrate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, when we first started the pumping operation he water was actually up in the pit. So, you were able to keep those pumps down and they were able to stay in the location that they were set for quite a long time. Because they have about 30-foot suction lines on them.

But now since we've got the water out of the pit, and we have to advance those lines into the mine, it's a very slight dip. So, you may have to advance that line 30 feet but in real elevation for water, you may only be dropping it a foot so we're moving those pumps and suction lines a lot more. Also, in line with that, we've added a another pump on the surface and we're also in the process of drilling through three more holes. Eventually, what we'd like to end up with is no pumps at the portal area because you have that constant problem of continuing to advance them pumps to keep them in the water.

Where once we get those pumps, the submersible pumps deep well pumps down in the mine, once you set them pumps, they're going pump until that water gets down tot hat level and we have those drilled into the mine at the lowest part of the mine.

QUESTION: Pumping in the Sachsman (ph) Mine as well?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we -- are we pumping any water from Sachsman? No, now there is some water that was relieving from Sachsman, but as that water level reduced in the old mine, naturally it's going to be less that was running out of a previous discharge. So, yeah, what water that is still in Sachsman, it's running into these mines.

QUESTION: So you're pulling it all out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All out of the Quecreek Mine.

QUESTION: Joe, can you give us some kind of idea of when you are able to begin that rescue operation. Is that rescue positively used to go down into the hole? What type of timetable does that take to lower that and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) someone back up and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all at the same time.

SCHWEIKER: Yeah, I asked that question last night and probably to cut to the chase, one big guy can -- and we've got a big guy down there -- one big buy in the rescue capsule and -- yeah, they can do two smaller people.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to lower that crank back up?

SCHWEIKER: I was -- well, I was told the staging could be an hour to two. And then the operation of it is tough to say because you may have to send somebody down. Depends on the condition of the miners that are down below. It depends on the working room that's available. In that chamber. If I may, as a parenthetic thought, you know this chamber is not big. Probably you know two lengths of this table. In length. And it's not very high. About -- what did we say -- about five -- 48 inches in height. I mean, it's a cramped condition.

And, it certainly restricts movement. And, so what we've got to -- you've got to take stock of the situation when you're down there either with direct communication and what -- how they describe the environment from down below or we got to send somebody in. And, it's -- so as a result -- it's tough to predict the time that would go on.

QUESTION: Is that the same scenario, the same time frame, for both types of rescue operations whether you go down with an air pocket that you don't have to worry about or if you go down using the air (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

I mean, how much longer would it take using the airlock going down?

SCHWEIKER: I'd like to just say as it relates to use of the airlock, that's going to take longer.

QUESTION: How do you transfer to -- or how are you going to transfer people from the airlock to the decompression chambers? Are you going to have to do that at regular atmospheric pressure, just walk them out and then into the other or have you got them so that they can come up much together?

SCHWEIKER: I think it's likely that this stretch of them up from...

Go ahead, Dave.

DAVID HESS, PA ENVIR. PROTECTION DEPT.: What will be happening when we reach the target depth of 207, we will not only together with Dave Lorensky (ph) and his staff at M-SHAW (ph), we will not only figure out whether the bubble is a concern or not, but we will develop, step by step procedures of how to enter that mine void to make sure that the rescuers are safe and to make sure that we can have the maximum opportunity to get those miners out of there.

So, we'll be developing step by step procedures for going into the mine void, step by step procedures for coming out and then handling any f the medical problems that occur out of -- once we get those miners out. So, not all the procedures have been developed yet, but they will be developed based on the conditions we find, as the governor said.

QUESTION: Have any of the monitoring devices or any of the technology detected any activity in the mine?


SCHWEIKER: And not -- it just hasn't paid off because there is just too much vibration up there.

QUESTION: No tapping or anything like that?

SCHWEIKER: No. And, you know, there is perhaps a plausible reason that that has not been detected. You know, in that six-inch shaft that went down through which we introduced the 190-degree heated compressed air, well, they were tapping before, you know, the real intense noise was coming out of -- emanating from that six-inch pipe, and, you know, they could be near it. But once you start sending that in, the noise down there, I'm told, is incredibly loud, and even in their stymied condition probably couldn't handle that, so you got to get away from it. And so you can't get up to the pipe to use code to say we're still here. Do you follow me?

QUESTION: Governor, from some of the workers we've talked to and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we were hearing a bit more optimism. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are they feeling the same way? Is there anything changed in the way they're feeling throughout the night?

SCHWEIKER: Well, you know, my visit, 20 minutes in length, and I told you it took up one of the drill team leaders who did it, just a super job, Larry Winkler (ph) is the operations guy at Falcon Drilling, and they're overseeing shaft two. There was -- they finished with applause. And I don't take that as if we did some kind of bang-up job. I took it as we needed to hear about progress. And they heard progress, and that's how they reacted.

So I think their frame of mind is, and has always been, hopeful. And I think their optimism has been tested. Mine certainly has been in the last two and a half days, it's gone up and down. And -- but they remain hopeful. But sober-minded, too. You know? They know the perils of mining and, therefore, they know the perils of this, what will be a history-making rescue effort.

QUESTION: Can you discuss the significance? You said 30 feet. What sea level is that, and why is the target 30 feet?

SCHWEIKER: Why are we stopping at?

QUESTION: Why is 30 feet important to get the water down to that level?

SCHWEIKER: Well, because it eliminates -- well, take, one, it takes the water out of that chamber, in our estimates, and, two, it means that the surrounding area is bereft water, and it wouldn't find its way into that chamber. It just translates to safety for all involved, both the miners and the rescuers who would be helping.

QUESTION: The rescue workers, where are they from?

SCHWEIKER: Well, Pennsylvania. And... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, right now, I don't think they've determined who will actually go down if that's necessary, but Mine Safety and Health Administration has trained rescue teams, and there are other capable people to do that, so, you know, that will all be discussed once we get into the procedures.


QUESTION: Governor, talking to the doctor (UNINTELLIGIBLE), what is the best case scenario for the condition of the miners as far as hypothermia, hydration and things like that?

SCHWEIKER: Well, the reactions that I experienced from those professionals is tough to say. There is some older gentlemen down there and there is some younger gentlemen down there. So it's tough to say. But certainly in a beleaguered state, and let's hope for the best.

QUESTION: Governor, would you elaborate on the briefing (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

SCHWEIKER: Well, I'm going to tell them that -- well, first, I'm going to thank him for the deployment of some significantly helpful assets, whether it's technical experts, to -- you know, there is decompression chambers, I mean, and I wish you could see it. It resembles, you know, a hospital room, you know, where you care for the babies. It's got that kind of look. And, you know, it's there because, one, they were ready to go, and, two, they made the decision to provide us all that we needed to complete the rescue operations.

So I'll thank him for that kind of commitment and acknowledge the incredibly important insights and savvy that have been afforded our people. Keep in mind that this is a complex operation and, soon, it will become more complex. And we've got an army of people up there working, and you need the pros giving oversight. They're there because of what the White House has provided.

And I think we are working nicely and positively so in collaboration with our, you know, state and local people. And then say, Mr. President, this is -- this is a very significant day, and the morning has got to go well, the drilling has to go well, taking out the water has to go well, and hopefully, I can call you later tonight and talk about rescuing our guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.


SCHWEIKER: If you count everyone from drill team members to assemblers to emergency response people, to the troopers, probably -- I am going to give you a guesstimate -- we could probably check it for you. I bet you -- I bet you we are over 100.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are they helping in the rescue efforts at all?

SCHWEIKER: Well, you know, they're -- no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everyone, very much.

SCHWEIKER: Thank you.

CALLAWAY: You've been listening to Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker. He is giving us an update on the rescue efforts for the nine miners who have been trapped in a coal mine there since Wednesday. They are digging two shafts, two rescue shafts there. Certainly shaft one is coming along a little bit faster than shaft two, and it's beginning of this rather lengthy news conference.

We heard the governor say that on shaft one, they are now digging through limestone to get to these miners, and he said it is incredibly difficult to drill through. That is a good sign, though, however, that they have reached down deep enough to get to the limestone area. Also saying that they are doing a good job of being able to pump out water that is in the shaft there.

Once again, that was an update on the rescue of the nine coal miners who have been trapped for several days now. The last time they heard from them was, I believe, Thursday night, and the governor answering a question about that saying that the drilling bits is -- the drilling there is such -- makes such a loud noise that he believes that the miners may have moved away from the area where they've been tapping on the pipe to code to the rescuers that they are still there, moving away because the sound is so incredibly loud.




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