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Pennsylvania Governor Addresses Press on Rescue Attempt

Aired July 27, 2002 - 18:15   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we're going to take you back to Somerset, Pennsylvania. We're hoping for the very latest news here from the governor of Pennsylvania on the rescue of these nine miners trapped in a mineshaft.


GOV. MARK SCHWEIKER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: As I've done in the past and I think it makes sense, we'll talk about my route and travels the last couple of hours.

I was up to the drill site and get back to that in a minute, but once I get the update and where we stand, although I've got an update just afforded me in the last couple of minutes. Then go up and spend an appreciable amount of time with the families.

And, you've often asked about the frame of mind of the families, and I will tell you that they are sturdy people. And they know about the rigors and the dangers of mining, and they certainly now know about the dangers and the rigors associated with deep mine rescue. And, through it all, they have remained hopeful, they have remained positive. I'd like to think that they would assess our visits and how we project things as an approach where we emphasize straight talk, and so I think with their outlook and straight talk that we've afforded them that they have a pretty good handle on where we stand.

Given this point as we approach the 72-hour mark, we're three days into this saga. You know, that blowout occurred on Wednesday evening sometime around 9 p.m.; we're only a couple of hours from that point. That we are -- we have reached a critical phase. And, how we apply ourselves now is quintessential to our success.

The -- it's a fragile state of affairs down there. If, for no other reason, than Mother Nature as far as the strata that we encounter, is fickle. You know, that's why rig two was down. You know, they got down as far as 195 but they've got a broken piece of equipment and they've got to repair that. So, at the outset here, the families have been apprised of the status, they now know that the focus is all on rescue shaft one, and it is certainly created a fretful environment for them, but they remain hopeful, so that's where the families are.

I said to them I did the four o'clock briefing myself. It's hot up there, literally hot up there. Where they are now in the fire house is inhabited only by the nine families themselves and immediate members because they need a little bit of -- they need lesser -- a lesser number of people in there, they need a little bit more calm, because we are hitting this delicate, pivotal stage, and the only additional folks that are now inside that fire house are the counselors that we have assigned to each of the nine families.

Some of them like their own pastor to be at their side, literally. And those pastors are there. Some just want someone to whom they can speak and have a counseling type of conversation. I know you can understand the need for that.

So, in that -- those hot temperatures in that rural firehouse without air conditioning, they are living a very difficult waiting game. But they remain hopeful, because as I said to you a moment ago, they know where we stand. Rescue shaft two and the related work is stopped. All of the focus is now on rescue shaft one. They are ever so close. They are 224 feet down. Less than 20 feet away from, you know, the ceiling of this chamber where we plan and hope and pray nine of our guys are.

And, so, a number of things have gone well since we stopped the drilling some hours ago. As we readied ourselves to accomplish a couple of things, one we had to stop drilling because you're getting close. And you've got to go slower, because you don't want to damage the -- that life saving bubble that we have continually raised here as providing life-sustaining opportunities for the nine miners.

Then, we begin and have begun the work, and succeeded in this, of applying the pressure cap. It's been -- the well is taken, we believe it's been crafted properly and you know what it does, it creates the same kind of atmosphere throughout the shaft that we believe is down below, and that's going to be ever so critical to the maintenance of the bubble. That we still want to do our level best to preserve.

So that that's been applied. And, so soon, we will begin, cautiously, the drilling. And, as I said, we're less than 20 feet away. These briefings haven't -- are successful when we talk about not just the drilling and the engineering but the -- our remarkable efforts to pull out the water. Dave, how much in terms of the foot, metric, has been taken out, would you say?

DAVE LAURISKI, MINE AND SAFETY HEALTH: We have less than a foot to go. We think a little bit over 29 feet.

SCHWEIKER: Yeah, we've taken out all of this now, this is 225 feet down, close to 30 feet of water. The pumps are still chugging, still taking it out, and we are close. And, here's the number: so close, 1829.04. We're less than a foot away. And, that's why these pumps are going to keep going, because we are starting to see the presentation of optimal circumstances to start the real rescue steps.

And, at the same time, though, we're, you know, encouraging the Falcon (ph) Rigging Team to keep going on rescue shaft two. So, but again, all the focus is on rescue shaft one and we are getting there. I don't know if I'm going to be able to give you an accurate prediction on when we would approach the ceiling, but we have every reason to think that absent any unexpected or alarming set back, before the evening is out, before midnight, we'll begin to the step of breaking though that cleanup that Dave mentioned in that chamber and then take that rescue capsule, replete with an atmospheric detection devices that will tell us what it's like, what's down there, and with the communication equipment and before we even get there that's kind of two steps removed.

We've got to get down there, got to break through the ceiling, and it's going to take probably an hour to pull up all of the piping. That extends 240 feet. That's got to come out. That's probably going to take an hour. And then, that third step is getting the rescue capsule down there to see what it's like. And, we are on the verge. And, so, the families are in a waiting game and we are in an Action Jackson mode. Up there. And, we're relying on our proficient drillers to go cautiously, to complete the shaft, and we're hours away from that moment. So, I'm going to give way to Dave Lauriski, who needs to come up and talk about some of the fragility of what we face now.

LAURISKI: Well, as the governor said and from our last briefing, we do have now the place in place to create this what I call an airlock that keeps the environment the same in the mine when we break through. That's in place, and right now, it's a waiting game with the water level. And, we're kind of in suspense with the drilling until we feel comfortable that we have a good projection on when that water level reaches the 1829 mark. Once we have that good feel, then we'll begin the drilling process again.

There's a concern, you know, always that the break through too soon because you just don't know what the roof strata may be in that area, so it'll be a very -- a lot of planning now to know exactly when we need to start that process. We have about 20, less than 20, feet to go. We're getting close to the water level where we're still running at about -- oh, we're probably doing about I think about a half a foot or I'm sorry a quarter of foot every thirty minutes or so, something like that. So, we still have another say figure another hour.

As I left up there just now, they're putting another pump in, I believe, into another bore hole that's in the lower part of the mine in the mains, and so that could help expedite the water process. But, that's not on line yet, but it could be on line here very shortly.

I want to emphasize one thing that the governor said. Once we break through, there's a lot of work that has to be done. Before anything else can be accomplished. One is that we have to be at the drill steel and the drill bit has to come out. We have to make sure we get all -- everything out of the way. We'll position the crane, with the capsule on it. That's going to take some time. So there's a lot of work that has to go into getting us ready to drop that capsule down in its first look under ground.

So, we want to make sure we really emphasize that that once we break into the mine, it's not sudden, and it's not instant, it's going to be some time after that. And, but everybody on the surface, the rescue teams, all the medical personnel, they're ready. The equipment's ready and so as quickly as we can get through and do what's necessary then we'll put the capsule above it and go down, take a look around, hopefully see somebody there and be able to have communication with somebody in the mine at that point.

So, that's really where we are. Right now. OK.


LAURISKI: Well, drilling is just holding right now and we're just kind of -- I mean it's just holding in suspense and everything's still running. They're keeping the pressure up. So, I mean, they don't have to start anything. When we say go, they go.

SCHWEIKER: Then the drill head is down there, at 224. We're not going to bring it up because -- you know -- remember, the walls are encased so you would have to start the reaming again. And, we don't' want to do that so it's staying down there.


SCHWEIKER: Well, I don't know about that but we're dealing with the water, and you know, that is an inhibitor right now until we get that out of there it's that's going to have to wait.


LAURISKI: No, the capsule is and I provided some drawings earlier. I believe the capsule is 22 inches in diameter so it's going to go down a 26-inch hole, effectively, it'll have some clearance. The first part of that hole is 30 inches and the bottom part is 26 inches.


LAURISKI: Well, I don't know. I think a lot of that's going to depend on what they -- as they start back down and how confident the strata is. I mean, I -- if it's like it's been, it should go fairly quickly.

SCHWEIKER: Of late, the averages just aren't relevant here because, you know what happened a couple of nights ago, went a hundred and so feet and couldn't go anywhere for hours. So, kind of out the window now and just got to go slow. That's why I mentioned the waiting game. Yes.


LAURISKI: You remember I described a yeti (ph)? Picture two of them. Two of them. And picture these two guillotines coming together, one overlapping the other and you have a hole in the center. The drill still goes through the hole in the center.


LAURISKI: Well, as we bring that back up, when we get it to a certain level, then we'll -- once the bit's in the hole, as long as the bit's in the hole itself, you have a seal. So, what happens is it's going to act like a piston. And we'll remove the cap once we get the bit back in the hole. Once we get close to the surface, we'll pull the cap back. Cause you'll have an effective seal.

And you'll have this will act like a piston; once it clears the surface then we'll slam these plates shut again. And we'll get the cap. But we'll get the cap. But that'll give us a chance to do some pressure readings, too, between the surface and the underground.


LAURISKI: Then we'll have to remove it and drop the capsule down, but we'll know what we have at that point.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You mentioned before the possibility....


SCHWEIKER: I can't emphasize this. That takes time, too. You know, when that instrumentation is down there, you know, it isn't an instant read. It's going to have to stay down there. For I don't know, probably a half hour, 45 minutes. Because we have to find out what's going on and then bring it up.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You mentioned before the possibility of when you actually break through, you may lose some of the ceiling in there. Is there anything you can do, I mean, you can picture, obviously if it's a confined space, they're going to hear it maybe coming through but maybe they can't get out of the way.

LAURISKI: Well, chances are, I mean, unless they're very injured right now that they've already -- you know -- if they're there, and they're well, then they're hearing this now. I mean, you can hear these sounds and they very well could feel it, the vibrations as they drill. But, and that certainly is a risk.

Again, once we break through one of the things that we want to make sure that we do is that we get a clearer path all the way to the floor. So that we can use the door on the capsule with clear the roof. That's very important.


LAURISKI: No, because the compressors have never been shut down. I mean, the compressor for number one is -- everything is in a go state. So we have to keep the pressure up, the pressure has to stay up on the drill. I mean, we don't want to do anything that was any different. We just needed to be able to turn the lever and go right back down.

SCHWEIKER: And there are a number of compressors up there. That's why I would take you back to the reference that I tried to emphasize about the assemblage of equipment. I mean, there's a lot of it, and it generates an awful lot of impact and noise. And, prevents us from coming up with a meaningful attempt on that. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LAURISKI: No, they'll be a coordinated effort. At some point during this process. And they very well may be figuring that out right now when they -- I mean, that could happen while we're here. Depending on how fast that water level drops. But we want to do is make sure that we don't break through into the mine before we have that water level at 1829 feet.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Given the situation, given the fact that (UNINTELLIGIBLE), what is the likelihood (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SCHWEIKER: Well, I don't know if that's probably an unanswerable question. This remains a rescue mission. And, that's our outlook. We have plenty of positive reasons to conduct ourselves in that fashion, so I'll -- go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You talked about the human emotion (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of people who are up there. The workers and the families and everyone knows you're this close, but they don't see any drilling, they don't hear any (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that has to be very, very frustrating.

SCHWEIKER: Well, frustrating but you know I think some of the families would tell you that -- you know, I've been up there enough, I've probably been in their company for a solid -- in the last 72 hours and it's kind of under the heading of I think I ought to know what they're saying. And, probably close to 10 hours in their company. And, you know, they know mining. They know drilling. And they know there's a chancy side to this.

And they also know that down at those depths that you've got to watch your p's and q's when it comes to drilling, and it argues for patience and a sense of command about the delicacy. And, they know about whether or not we are giving them dependable reads on what's going on or not.

And, so, as a result, they may be fretful over the pace but they understand and accept it. The workers. You know the workers? They are -- some of them are extremely tired. But they have lost no focus, they have lost no determination. And they are as fired up as they were on Wednesday night.

To get it done, and as we've talked with those deep mine rescuers and everyone is up there, I think -- if there's any slogan it's nine for nine, we're bringing up nine of our guys.


SCHWEIKER: Well, I'm not going to go there. Rest assured we've discussed it. Thank you. LIN: All right, that was Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker saying hope is very much alive that they're going to be able to rescue, it is still a rescue operation, rescue nine miners trapped in this mineshaft in Somerset, Pennsylvania.




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