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Schweiker Updates Press on Rescue Efforts

Aired July 27, 2002 - 13:29   ET


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Coal country in western Pennsylvania is filled with the sound of drilling this hour to try to save the lives of nine trapped miners. Rescuers are closer than ever to the trapped men. CNN's Brian Palmer joins us now live from Somerset, Pennsylvania with the latest -- Brian.

BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Renay, we are moments away from a press conference by Governor Mark Schweiker. He is approaching the podium now. We are waiting for the latest news on the rescue operation. He should be stepping to the podium as I speak.

GOVERNOR MIKE SCHWEIKER, PENNSYLVANIA: Good afternoon, everyone. I appreciate your patience. I realize that we talked about coming together a little bit earlier at noon, and we've had a number of favorable developments and the need for some extended discussions involving all of the experts behind me and folks up at the drill site. And you know, that took some time, so that explains the delay and also the fact that I spent a certain amount of time with the families, and that took some time, also, as you might imagine, because they're interested in precise answers to their very important questions, and all of that took some time. So thank you so much for your patience, and we'll get to your questions in a moment.

Let me tell you how our day has gone. We have made significant progress. At about 11:00, I was up at the drill site, and I'm going to give you not 11:00 numbers as to where we are in terms of the drilling depth; I am going to give you recent numbers both in terms of where we are as relates to the drilling and where we are as far as the sea level of the water.

And we discussed all of those things in the 11:00 meeting, and then we had some important review to conduct, some important conclusions to draw. Project ourselves through the day, as meaningful as they are and encouraging as they are and as positive as I believe, is that the nature of those discussions that kicked off at about 11:00.

From that point, when I was at the command center and then at the drill site, I then went up to visit with the families. And the families are eager. They have awaited this what one called crunch time, and I just left not too long ago. And I think they're very thankful for a lot of our effort and certainly the briefings that we have afforded them and the insights, but they realize that we are coming up on a critical time, and as that gentleman said, this is crunch time. I said, "you got that right." And that was after probably an hour of Q&A as well as the briefing that we had provided.

And I should tell you as it relates to the families -- and I will talk about their favorable state of mind. They didn't mention it this morning, because we wanted to get permission. It was a very nice gesture and I think exemplary of how the nation has responded with incredible support, but at the top of that list of support -- supporters are the survivors of flight 93 who sent an e-mail message to whom they called the Somerset mining families. And you should know, and you know, we need uplifting moments, because this has been some ordeal over the last soon to be three days, at 8:00 p.m. tonight, that it was uplifting to know that families that had suffered on September 11 by a virtue of that plane crashing into, ironically so, the Somerset County hillside took the time to express their sentiments and to be supportive.

And so, that was a highlight last night. That was last night. But the families today were eager and had some good questions as to where we stand, and they are readying themselves for what I called up the road at the firehouse, "the real rescue mission."

We have been readying ourselves over the last two and a half days, as you know, assembling off a lot of the essential equipment. The drilling has been carried out, you know, at rescue shaft one we are at a depth of 214 feet. You know the importance of that number. But I explained to them that we are readying ourselves now for the real rescue mission. And, they are hopeful. As you know, they have placed an awful lot of trust in all of us, and I want for the moment to acknowledge the incredible teamwork and all of the important organizations that are represented behind me. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the Department of Labor and Dave (ph) may well be in a position some time soon to answer your probes and questions. But so many deserve some credit here, and I took the time to mention that when I was up at the site of the volunteer firehouse.

One of the things I should say, and I tried to gently emphasize this on Thursday, you know, those nine families need support. And we are giving it to them. Those nine families need respect, and we've got to provide it to them. And we do that in a number of ways. Of course, the wonderful expressions of support go a long way, but I need to emphasize whether it is folks that just want to take a look at where the families are assembled or good folks like yourself who are diligent to please respect their place. And I'd ask you to steer clear of that firehouse up the road, and today it is going to be a secure location. And they're going to police themselves, as far as the number of people who will be in that firehouse, and we're going to set up a live connection for them from the drill site that isn't too far from the fire house.

And as -- when we hit that moment when it's time to activate the real rescue mission, they will be given an accounting of what is occurring. And we'll have someone, you know, of technical caliber at the firehouse who will use plain English and explain to them what is transpiring. They are owed that, and I think under the heading of support and respect, they're owed that, and I would ask you again to be mindful of respecting their place. As far as the mechanical side and the engineering, rescue shaft one has pulled ahead of rescue shaft two. And I mentioned one is at 214; two is at about 190. Perhaps maybe 191, 192, 193. Don't have the specific on that, but it's right around 190. It points out that just the unpredictable aspect of drilling down through strata. Last night, rescue shaft two was running ahead of one; now it has been flipped. So it seems like right now rescue shaft one will give us access to that chamber. We're about 30 feet away.

And having said that, we are now in a critical state. We need to keep going with the drilling, we need to begin to, at the same time, attach to the shaft, and I'm going to have Dave Beresky (ph) come up and talk about his experience with that and explain for you what is entailed in the application of this air cap that guarantees that we can keep this life-sustaining bubble active 240 some feet below the surface.

But that the application of it will happen in tandem with the drilling. It may slow it a little bit at that point, the drilling, that is, so that we can apply this cap.

We are ever so hopeful that at that point the water depth will be at about -- what are we quoting? We need 1829 ideally.

SAN MIGUEL: We are watching Governor Mark Schweiker, the governor of Pennsylvania give an update here on the situation involving the nine trapped miners in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He now says that one of the shafts has gotten within 30 feet of the air pocket where the miners are believed to be located. They have drilled down 214 feet on rescue shaft number one. Rescue shaft number two at 190 feet now.

So it appears, as he said, rescue shaft number one will be the first to reach the miners. But as he also mentioned, we're entering a very critical state in the rescue operations, because as the drilling is going on, they need to place an air cap over that shaft that will help guarantee that the air pocket that these miners are trapped in -- are believed to be trapped in -- will remain in place, because there is a danger. If the water level in that particular chamber where the miners are trapped is not lowered sufficiently enough, once that drilling pierces the cave there, the ceiling of that chamber, the difference in pressure could again flood the compartment. So it is a very delicate operation that they are trying to get going here.

So that is the latest situation here that we have regarding those miners. They are now within 30 feet of the miners.




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