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Thirteen Coal Miners Trapped in West Virginia Mine

Aired January 3, 2006 - 05:00   ET


QUESTION: Would it be safe to assume that, had they made it 9- 10,000 feet in, that their self-rescuers would not get them back out, even under normal conditions?
HATFIELD: I don't believe that's safe to say. Certainly an underground miner could walk that far in an hour if there were no obstacles. Yes, there's -- yes, the one hour limit on the self-rescue would get them out of the mine if there had been no obstacles.

QUESTION: How long do you expect them for the sake of rescuers to get to where you think the miners are without (ph) a robot.

HATFIELD: We really don't know. Again, the main reason to push forward with the robot and to push forward with the drill hole is essentially to determine what lays ahead of the rescue teams. Once they know what's out in front of them, they can move much quicker. They can move with greater surety that they're not putting further lives at risk, and that's the driving point of this entire effort.

We don't want to put people at risk as we're trying to get out employees safely out, so with the combination of the information we get from the drill hole, and the information we get from the robot should put us in position to make much better decisions, much quicker decisions to get our people safely out of the mine.

QUESTION: How is to miners go about barricading themselves in? What type of materials would they use and how do they -- can you get ventilation?

HATFIELD: They would essentially try to block in an area of good air, so they wouldn't necessarily be receiving further ventilation. They would try to find an area where the environment appears to be safe and they would use the ventilation materials that we normally maintain on any coal mining section to construct such a barrier.

QUESTION: And how quickly can the robot move once it's deployed?

HATFIELD: I'm not certain about how fast the robot moves. I think part of that's going to depend on the terrain, but we're told it weighs something around 1,300 pounds and it's been taken in on a track mounted vehicle to get it as far in as we can to the extent that the rescue teams have already determined that the area is safe. So they'll go to that 9,200 foot point, unload the robot, and then let the robot push forward for about 3,500 feet.

QUESTION: Can you just clarify one thing? From the opening of the mine to the 9,200 feet where they are now, they've come across no obstructions? The rescue teams?

HATFIELD: I'm told, based on, again, the update that I got from the command center within the last hour that there have been roof falls, no significant accumulations of debris that would be an obstacle, a physical obstacle to getting crews in or out. The concerns have only been with respect to the gases in the reading (ph) environment.

QUESTION: Any details on the robot, the manufacturer?

HATFIELD: This is a machine that's being made available to us through the cooperation of the federal mining authorities, MSHA. This literally was shipped from their offices at Beckley and brought to this site. So it's something that's been developed through cooperation, I believe, between the federal mining authorities and other parties. So it's literally to MSHA's credit that this machine is being made available to help us with our crisis.

QUESTION: And it's the miners who are tapping. Do you feel like the robot would be better suited to hear potential communication efforts by the miners than perhaps human rescue teams?

HATFIELD: Well, I'm not sure about the robot's audio ability, but to this point we've heard no noise at all, no communication from our employees. But what the robot will tell us, again, is what the environment is that lays ahead of us, and what the condition might be of the ventilation infrastructure.

We've got to have the ventilation infrastructure intact, and we've got to know what the environment is before we can move forward at a higher pace, a faster pace, with our rescue teams, and that's the goal.

QUESTION: So there's no timeframe on how soon the robot can get you that information?

HATFIELD: We do not know other than the fact that as soon as this drill hole is down, which, as Gene Kitts (ph) told you a few moments ago, we're expected that to happen around 6:00 ...

QUESTION: The drill hole comes first and then the robot?

HATFIELD: Yes, the drill hole gets down, because again, people have to be removed from the mine just as a safety precaution before the drill hole comes in into the mine itself. It'll stop just short of penetrating the mine roof, withdrawal of the crews, and then hole into the mine, and at that point we'll have a measuring point at the furthest step to the mine face on the two left section.

With that information, we can then turn the robot loose coming from the other direction, and gain more information about what lies ahead with the rescue crews.

QUESTION: Mr. Hatfield, you indicated that the rescue crews had seen signs of combustion.

HATFIELD: Yes, well, the elevated carbon monoxide levels tell us that there's an indication of combustion.

QUESTION: Is there anything else about that combustion that they saw indicate its intensity? By that I mean machinery that was damaged, hydraulic hoses melted, any number of things.

HATFIELD: We -- for the examples that you've cited, we've seen no indication of melted hoses or damaged equipment. Nothing of that nature has been reported back from the rescue teams to this point. The damage that we are seeing is the damage that would result from a combustion which causes a pressure of air that sometimes disrupts the ventilation structure, and that we are seeing on a fairly moderate scale.

No further questions. Again, we will ...

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) a successful rescue operation?

HATFIELD: We continue to push forward just as intensely as we started this morning around 7:00. We will push forward as quickly as we can as long as there is a shred of hope that we can get our people out safely.

QUESTION: Can you describe what the damage to the ventilation system would look like?

HATFIELD: It would essentially be a blocked wall pushed over or sometimes a temporary ventilation structure that's pushed over by air pressure. It wouldn't necessarily be any kind of a major burning or a major disruption. Sometimes it just happens because of air pressure.


QUESTION: Why do you need to withdraw the rest of your team to deploy the drill hole?

HATFIELD: That's on the advice of both the state and federal mining authorities. They believe that it's safer to -- in the event that there's some sort of atmospheric shift when the drill hole penetrates to not take a risk of creating an ignition or a reversal in the air that could put out other people at risk, so it's essentially a safety precaution.

QUESTION: You'll remove them all the way back to the opening of the mine ...

HATFIELD: Yes, completely outside, and then we'll hole through with the drill ...


HATFIELD: ... and then go in with a robot.

QUESTION: The robot is not inside at this point?

HATFIELD: Not at this point. It's being loaded.

QUESTION: It'll go in when they go back in.

HATFIELD: Right. It's being loaded on rail equipment to go inside.

QUESTION: What is the robot called? I mean, can you better describe it other than just a robot?

HATFIELD: There's probably a technical term for it, but I don't have a clue what it is. But it's a robot that -- by that we mean a track-mounted piece of equipment that can move itself forward and it equipped with atmospheric measuring equipment as well as a camera, and that will, again, tell us what lies ahead of the rescue crews.

QUESTION: Is there any kind of timeframe from once you get the pull forward and you know that the air quality is good to the rescue crews and the robot to get back 9,200 feet in (ph) that process?

HATFIELD: I don't want to speculate on how quickly we can react to it. Too much depends on what information we get. Again, this is a very dangerous process. As much as we desperately want to get to our people and get them out safely, we can't put more people at risk in the process, so we have to move forward with an abundance of caution, and that is our plan.

QUESTION: The miners can move though by foot or by the battery- operated carts from the opening of the mine to the 9,200 feet.

HATFIELD: Without any impedance, and I don't think there would be any, that's not a long walk. I mean, that's maybe a 40-minute walk for an underground miner.

QUESTION: We heard earlier how many rescue people were involved. But looking at the total operation including NIOSH and MSHA, and people from your company, how many in total are involved in this rescue operation?

HATFIELD: To be honest, I don't know how many people. Every time I open a door over there in the emergency center, I find more technical people. We have engineers and we have computer technicians and we have mine regulators. We have various consultants.

We have just been overwhelmed with help, certainly courtesy of the federal authorities and courtesy of the state administration. Governor Manchin has himself -- as you know, has been on site, and he has pledged every resource available to the state to help us in this effort. So we have lots of help. We're just limited by what we don't know that's underground.

QUESTION: What is something you'd like to tell the viewers at home that's watching right now?

HATFIELD: Pray. Thank you.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: A live news conference. Officials with the International Coal Group, the company which owns the Sago Mine in West Virginia, briefing reporters on the latest information and ending, obviously, on a very, very tough note when asked what should viewers be doing or thinking about. Then Hatfield, the president and CEO of the International Coal Group said to pray.

There were some developments though that did come out of that news conference. Number one, we learned that the drilling -- drilling a hole into the earth -- is expected to be completed just about 50 minutes from now, about 6:00 a.m. Eastern time. Once that is completed, the hope is that they will be able to test the air quality as well as use a camera to try and start getting some video of the area where the miners are believed to be.

Also, we understand the rescue teams, because of an abundance of caution, will be coming out from inside the mine and a robot will be going in, trying to get to the area where those miners are believed to be, again, to test the air quality and get a sense of the situation.

Adaora, you have been listening to this news conference as well, and you are following all the developments there. Give us a sense of what you are hearing from this news conference.

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Indeed. Just to add to some of the points that you just made, number one, that robot that they're planning on sending into the mine shaft actually has cameras and sensors.

UDOJI: ...planning on sending into the mine shaft actually has cameras and sensors, so it will be able to measure the carbon monoxide and other gas levels down in the shaft.

They told us that the rescue teams have stopped at 9200 feet into the mine shaft. Now that's just about 800 feet short of where they believe the miners are. They've been saying the past almost 24 hours now they believe that the miners are in the mine shaft about two miles, and down about 260 feet.

Another note of cautious optimism in there, Kelly, was the fact that they said the drilling was going so quickly -- they hadn't anticipated that it would go so quickly -- that those rescue teams could stop, they could send in the robot as a way to collect as much information as possible so that they can fundamentally understand exactly what the conditions are in that mine shaft. They were saying that that is good news because the more information they have, the better they believe that they will be able to go in and find those miners.

No contact yet with the miners. They said they had not heard anything as of yet, but again, once that robot goes in, it has cameras, so they'll be able to see and potentially hear what's going on in that mine shaft. Also, lots of questions about what kind of shape the mine shaft is in, what kind of debris the rescue teams were facing, officials from the International Coal Group saying that the air quality was good at 9200 feet, that the conditions in the mine shaft were fine. The roof had not caved in, there was not a lot of debris, meaning that they have confidence that that robot was going to be able to go in and maneuver and collect all that information that's going to help them go in and find those miners. Kelly?

WALLACE: Adaora, something else we did hear from Ben Hatfield, the president and CEO of the International Coal Group: he did say that there were clearly some signs of combustion. He said, "elevated levels of carbon monoxide," so that obviously is a concern.

We also, when we were talking to James Spears, with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs for Public Safety, he did say his understanding, Adaora, is that the air quality for those rescue teams at about 9200 feet was starting to degrade just a little bit. And even the officials we just heard from said it was acceptable, but that there were some signs of some elevation of gases. So that obviously has to be a concern for officials on the scene right now.

UDOJI: Absolutely. And I think that's why, as we heard them say that they are really looking forward to sending in that robot, because it can travel about 3500 feet -- well past where their belief, at this point, where the miners are -- and collect a lot of information -- by video, by the sensors -- so that it will give rescue workers a lot better information to move forward as they try to locate these miners.

The other thing that I thought was interesting was just them talking about why, perhaps, they have not had contact. We know the telephone lines are down in the mine, but they also said that part of the safety procedures are for the miners to barricade themselves if they believe that what's in front of them -- gas -- is more dangerous than them just barricading themselves in an area where at least they can continue to gain oxygen, and that is among some of the safety -- the safety procedures that they take in an incident like this. Kelly?

WALLACE: That's an excellent point you are raising there, Adaora. And one final question for you, Adaora: we've been talking about the family, the friends, loved ones who are gathered, who are waiting for any information. Give us a sense -- paint the picture for us -- I know they're a little bit aways from you, but they must be monitoring these news conferences and all the coverage throughout the night.

UDOJI: Absolutely. Officials told us earlier that before they come out and make briefings to the press, they are first going to the families and telling them exactly where they are in their search for those 13 miners. All of these family members and many of the friends -- I should say, many family members and many friends -- they've all congregated at a Baptist church which is just up the street from the mine here. It's been set up by the Red Cross, a family center, so that people can gather together. We're told they've been praying together, they've been consoling one another and they've been, of course, just waiting for any news as it's been coming from the officials. Kelly?

WALLACE: Adaora, thank you so much. Covering a lot of ground for us, Adaora Udoji. We'll be checking in with you throughout the morning. We want you to know that just about 45 minutes from now, AMERICAN MORNING begins at 6:00 a.m. Eastern. Complete and full coverage of this unfolding situation in West Virginia. If we get any other developments before that time, of course, we'll bring them to you.

I'm Kelly Wallace in New York. We're going to take a short break, and then we will continue with Anderson Cooper's special coverage from West Virginia.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: (INAUDIBLE) here in West Virginia, two teams are leap-frogging right now, leap-frogging their way down a shaft. They're hoping to find 13 trapped miners alive.

Joining us now with some latest information is Jim Spears. He's secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety here in West Virginia.

Appreciate you joining us again.


COOPER: What's the latest you have about the drill? It was supposed to start at 9:00 p.m., then they said it didn't. They were hoping it was going to start around 10:30. What's the holdup?

SPEARS: Well, the holdup is we want to make sure that they're drilling in the right place. As you know, drilling is a science as only as much as you can get the exact data that you need in order to make the drill into the exact spot where you think that you need to make that drill.

In this particular case, you have to determine where you best think that the miners are going to be located and then transfer that data to the surface point and then you have to do triangulation to make sure that you in fact are making that drill at the right spot.

COOPER: And even getting the drill up there has been difficult. I mean, as you were saying, there's not a road up there. You got to make a road.

SPEARS: Exactly. It's not just a matter of all of a sudden having drilling equipment right at the exact spot at the time that you want it there. You also have to get the drilling equipment up there. And so just getting the equipment up there also hampers the operation and makes it difficult.

COOPER: How much of it is luck in terms of getting that drill at precisely the right spot? I mean, during the Quecreek mine, we heard from those miners, I mean, that it was a miracle, really, that they were able to locate the exact spot.

SPEARS: Well, that's one of the difficult pieces of data that we're trying to do -- determine, is exactly where it is that you should drill. And getting the exact survey data was important and we did not want to start drilling at a spot that we would determine is not best for possibly getting down to those trapped miners. That's one of the reasons why drilling has taken so long to get started. We don't want to go down an area that we really shouldn't have been going down.

COOPER: And so the drill, I mean, we talked about this before. It has a twofold purpose. It's to test the quality of the air and also possibly to drop communication devices down there. In terms of a timeline, I mean, if they get the drill into the right spot, you know, that 260 plus feet down in there, what happens then? What do they do?

SPEARS: Well, as we said, the primary purpose is to test the atmospherics of the air coming out of the particular part of the mine. And then also we hope that we can be able to drop some sensitive communications equipment down to determine if we can make contact with anybody down there. It's at that point that we'll decide what we want to do with the mine shaft.

COOPER: And how quickly can they determine the air quality?

SPEARS: That should be able to be determined as soon as they can get the sensing equipment down there. With that shaft, once they get it down there, it shouldn't take that long.

COOPER: What seems to be making pretty good and pretty steady progress are this leapfrogging rescue teams -- got two teams in there right now. A number of teams are ready on standby to just keep this process going all night long. They're at -- the last count we heard was 4,800 feet. Is that what you have?

SPEARS: Forty-eight hundred to 5,000. It's not exact. The way we're gauging it is by their location as they call in; however, they're also going off to the sides and they're also making repairs to ventilation equipment as they go. So 4,800 - 5,000 square feet, that's a good rough estimate.

COOPER: And it's good news that the readings -- the air quality readings they've been getting have been safe levels, correct?

SPEARS: That's true. However, one of the reasons why they have gone as slowly as they have is they have to test for the atmospherics as they go along and they did get some slight methane, elevated methane levels, but then those levels decreased again as they went on and made the repairs to the various ventilators.

COOPER: And pardon my ignorance, I didn't do very well in science class. Methane, where does it come from and why is that of such concern?

SPEARS: Right. Methane is a natural gas and under surface of the world.

COOPER: Okay. And high quantities of methane clearly it's something that -- it's not breathable, it's not good for human habitation?

SPEARS: Right.

COOPER: Alright. Jim, appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

SPEARS: Thank you.

COOPER: I know it's a busy night for you. Thank you.

I want to check on some other top stories right now. Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS" joins us with some of the other headlines. Hi Erica.


We can tell you now at least five people, including one child, we know are dead after the collapse of a skating rink's snow-covered roof. This happened in a southern German town, Bad Reichenhall. All told, 35 people were injured, 19 of those victims remain hospitalized.

In the meantime, in Iraq a suicide bomber killed seven and wounded 13 when he detonated his car near a bus north of Baquba. The bus, which was carrying Iraqi police recruits, was destroyed in the attack, as were a number of civilian vehicles nearby.

And also in Iraq, a promise kept. Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr Uloom today announced he resigned his post. All this as a protest over higher gas prices. Uloom threatened to do that just about two weeks ago if the situation didn't change. Keeping his word there.

In his first year-end report since joining the Supreme Court three months ago, Chief Justice John Roberts put higher pay for federal judges at the top of his agenda, something his predecessor had been putting there for 19 years. Chief Justice Robert called the paltry current pay, quote, "a direct threat to judicial independence." Maybe he'll have a little more luck with that one -- Anderson.

COOPER: Alright, Erica, thanks very much.

In Oklahoma, Texas wildfires have charred hundreds of thousands of acres. And Oklahoma City's mayor says it may still get worse before it gets better. After the break, we'll meet the brave firefighters who are battling a deadly mix of powerful flames, strong winds and not enough rain. And that is not likely to change.

Also coming up live from right here in West Virginia, we'll meet a family member of one of the miners who is down below. A family member waiting for word on their loved one. Stay with us on 360.


COOPER: We continue to follow the situation here in West Virginia -- 13 miners trapped beneath the ground about 10,000 feet inside this mine. I'm joined by the relative of one of the miners, Michelle Mouser. Her uncle, Terry Helms, is one of the 13 men trapped underground.

Michelle, thanks very much for being with us. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances. How are you holding up?

MICHELLE MOUSER, UNCLE TRAPPED IN MINE: I'm doing pretty good. I'm rally worried about my family mostly. But we're all -- we're pretty strong people. We all stick together and we do what we can. I'm trying to be strong for my uncle that's in the mine. But if I know Terry, he's okay and he's helping everybody else get through it and get out of there.

COOPER: And you have been here all day long?


COOPER: Who do you have with you, keeping this vigil?

MOUSER: I have his fiancee with me. I have his daughter. His son's on the way up from Myrtle Beach. I have his sister, which is my mother; and his other brother; and then the rest of the family.

COOPER: I was talking to the governor earlier, whose uncle passed away in 1968 in a mine.

MOUSER: Right.

COOPER: And he lost a lot of friends and about what that was like for him, waiting through it. But I mean, it's just got to be indescribable, kind of hour after hour, just waiting for bits and pieces of information.

MOUSER: It is. It's very hard. And then when you hear -- you see the lights or the ambulance or something coming, you think that there's hope. But, you know, and it goes back and forth. You get good news, you get bad news. So we just got to wait and see. You know, once they get in there and how close they get what the situation is.

COOPER: You have, I mean, mining in your family, going back a long way, do you ever -- I mean, you never get used to something like this, but you seem resolved to it in some way.

MOUSER: Everybody's been a coal miner in my family, back to my great-grandfathers, all through -- up this -- to my uncles and stuff. There's been a lot of changes. There's been a lot of safety things that's changed and made it better, but like today, we didn't expect nothing to happen.

COOPER: And what is your -- I mean, how do you get through each hour? What is it that is keeping you, you know, I mean, is it updates of information? What is it --

MOUSER: Really, I think it's just our family all sticking together, being there together and supporting each other. And the updates help. But they're very far and in between. We don't get very many updates. So, I think it's just the family sticking together and everybody -- coal miners stick together no matter what.

COOPER: Well, I could tell that when I drove up here, you know, I'd drive by houses and everywhere I saw families gathered around the television. There were signs up, pray for the families, pray for the miners. So, I mean, you got to feel the love of this community and the entire world who is watching the story right now. I hope you feel some of that.

MOUSER: Oh, you know, we feel a lot of it. I mean, it's been really great the way we got here this morning, the church is already set up, all the food was set up. The Red Cross was here. Everybody was ready and prepared for these families, to start taking over and helping them with everything.

COOPER: And how long has your uncle been a miner?

MOUSER: Thirty-five years.

COOPER: Wow. So, I mean, it -- and always in this mine?

MOUSER: No. He's been in Blacksville Mine and Morgantown and moved around, but he's been in this mine less than six months because a new company took over, so they moved him over here.

COOPER: And your father has also been in the mines and in the mining field for a long time and he's, I mean, he's had a lot of bad luck too, hasn't he?

MOUSER: My father tears down and rebuilds mining equipment for all over the U.S. And there's occasions he has to go into the mines to fix a piece of equipment, which he really tries to get out of that all the time, but there's occasions he has to go in and do some welding and stuff in the mines. But yes, he's had a few bad accidents with the mining equipment and stuff also.

COOPER: What is it, for people who don't have any association with mining, I mean, what is the life like for yourself, for family members of miners? Is it every day when they go out to work, do you worry?

MOUSER: Yes. It's -- I think, you know, you try to learn to worry about -- not to worry about it and everything else. So, you just take it day by day and go from there.

COOPER: I guess it's like having a loved one who's a soldier or a Marine, you just kind of -- it's just part of the job.

MOUSER: Yes. It's the same thing because you don't know what's going to happen from day to day.

COOPER: Well, Michelle, you know, God bless you and I wish the best for your family and your Uncle Terry and all the other miners there and let's hope very soon you and I are talking again and we have a happy story to tell.

MOUSER: Alright. Just keep praying, everybody, for us.

COOPER: We will, Michelle. Thank you very much.

MOUSER: Thank you.

COOPER: Michelle Mouser, her Uncle Terry is still one of the 13 miners trapped beneath the ground. We'll have a lot more here from West Virginia.

We'll also take a look back at the miracle at Quecreek, what happened more than three years ago. How those miners survived and what the lessons learned there. How those lessons may help the miners here.

Plus, what rescuer workers are facing right now underground. It is not easy. It is slow going. Step by step, operating with their hands. We'll talk to an expert for some insight.

And also, a dramatic rescue on the Hudson River of a downed plane, today, in New York. Stay with us.


WALLACE: Good morning, everyone. I'm Kelly Wallace, reporting from New York, bringing you the latest on a tense situation in West Virginia. The situation involving 13 coal miners who have been trapped inside a mine shaft since early Monday morning. A news conference wrapped up just a short time ago, officials from the International Coal Group, the company which owns and runs the mine, giving us the latest information. We are told that drilling -- drilling a hole, a 6-inch hole, into the mine shaft should be completed at the top of the hour, at about 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Officials are then hoping they'll be able to detect the air quality where the miners are believed to be, and also use some camera equipment to try and get a sense of the situation there, get some video of the situation where the miners are believed to be.

We also learned that, due to an abundance of caution, the rescue teams that are inside the mine shaft will come out. They have gotten about 9200 feet inside the mine shaft, with the miners believed to be about 10,000 feet inside. Those rescue teams will come out, and a robot will be deployed underground. This robot will have special sensors to try and detect the level of air quality, to detect any elevated level of dangerous gasses, and also to give us some video of the situation.

At this time, officials saying there has been no contact with these 13 coal miners since early Monday morning -- believed to be some explosion inside the mine shaft which led to this continuing crisis. These miners, though, are also described as "an experienced bunch, not a rookie team at all" -- the average level of experience about 23 years with these 13 miners.

We'll be bringing you the latest information as we get it. AMERICAN MORNING, which starts at the top of the hour, will have complete and full coverage of the situation in West Virginia. For now, I'm Kelly Wallace, reporting in New York. And we return to Anderson Cooper's special coverage from West Virginia, already in progress. COOPER: Well, here in Upshur County, with 13 miners trapped, a lot of families are hoping for a miracle tonight. As harrowing as the wait can be, and we've just heard how it is, and as badly as things can go, there is comfort, too, in knowing that sometimes miracles do happen.

Earlier in the hour we spoke with someone who experienced it first hand, down in the mine at Quecreek. The larger story now of what happened then from CNN Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The world was watching as rescuers desperately drilled under 240 feet of rock, trying to save nine men in a flooded Pennsylvania mine. But nobody above the ground knew if the miners were dead or alive. And then came the word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All nine are alive.

TUCHMAN: After 77 hours, with tens of millions of gallons of water having flooded the Quecreek Mine, the men were pulled one at a time in a cage-like cylinder. All nine miners had survived. And over a 90-minute period they were all rescued on live TV.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lucky seven, Dennis J. Hall, H-A-L-L. He's 49 years old. And he's a local boy from Johnstown.

TUCHMAN: Dennis Hall comes from a family of minors. He had worked underground since he was a teenager. At first, he was hopeful there would be a rescue, but 18 hours went by where nothing was heard from above.

DENNIS HALL, MINER: Time was running out, as that water filled the mine up, we were losing our oxygen.

TUCHMAN: Hall and his fellow miners wrote goodbye letters to their families and put them in a bucket.

HALL: I made peace with the Lord and I figured, if this is the way he wants me to die, you know, I accept this. I didn't like it, but I did accept it.

TUCHMAN: Another trapped miner, Danny Fogel (ph), felt the same way. And thought about family members in the mines before him.

DANNY FOGEL (ph), MINER: I've had on my mom's side, her dad died in the mines. My uncle, on her side, lost his leg in the mines. On my wife's side, her dad lost his dad before he was born.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His name is Randy Fogel (ph).

TUCHMAN: Heroic measures by many made the rescue possible. The Quecreek mine is under a farm, the owner of the farm did the first digging.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they were under my property, I somehow felt responsible for their well-being.

TUCHMAN: A microphone lowered into the ground ultimately it clear everyone was alive. The cage was dropped inside, and the miners realized they were saved.

HALL: Wow, you know. I can't believe this. You know? I just couldn't believe it.

TUCHMAN: Some of the men still work in the coal mining industry, but only Randy Fogel (ph) is still working underground. Dennis Hall, husband and father of two, undergoes counseling. And at his family's request will never work again as a miner.

HALL: You know, how they say, stop and smell the roses. Well, there's a lot of truth to that.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: Well, that of course was in July of 2002. Joining us live now is a man with a great deal of experience in this difficult and delicate kind of rescue work. Joseph Sbaffoni is the director of Bureau of Deep Mine Safety at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Joseph, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much for being with us. As we watch this rescue operation underway, what should we keep in mind?

JOSEPH, SBAFFONI, DIRECTOR, DEEP MINE SAFETY BUREAU: I think the most important thing is that the efforts that are going on by both the state and the federal agencies and the mining company down there, to try to get underground and get back to where those miners should be located.

COOPER: What is the most difficult thing in a rescue operation like this? We are told there are two teams now, leapfrogging their way down into this mine. What's the most -- what's the hardest thing they are facing?

SBAFFONI: Right now, they're moving along pretty quickly because it seems like the areas that they're traveling the air is relatively safe. Evidently, when this explosion occurred it probably damaged some ventilation controls. Once the teams reach those areas the going will probably slow down because those areas will be contaminated.

COOPER: How is this operation different than the Quecreek operation? I mean, there it was water that was involved. Water is not playing a role here, we're told.

SBAFFONI: Well, I think the biggest difference was the rescue team part of it. At Quecreek we ended up where we didn't have to use any teams underground. We had a mine that was filled with water. We had to put a plan in place to try to keep those individuals alive and then drill a rescue hole to make -- to be able to bring them out of the mine.

In this case here, we have miners who are underground, we don't know where they're located. And all the work has to be done by the mine rescue teams entering the mine and proceeding back to the areas where everyone feels the miners would be located.

COOPER: And it is -- I mean, how precise can you be about where these miners are? How do you try to figure that out?

SBAFFONI: Well, in this case here, I think that the other crew was not too far behind them. And so I think they have a very, very good idea of where the miners are located. They have an idea of where the explosion took place and where there is some damage to ventilation controls.

So, I think they have a general idea of where they're located. I'm sure they're in the process of trying to drill some rescue holes down into the mine, probably for the purpose of monitoring the atmosphere. But also in hopes of being able to locate where the miners are if there are any still alive.

COOPER: Joseph, appreciate you joining us for your expertise. Thank you very much.

SBAFFONI: You're quite welcome.

COOPER: There is so much to cover here. We believe there may be another press conference around midnight. We will bring that to you live, of course, if it happens.

A lot more ahead though on 360, it's a tough battle for firefighters in Texas and Oklahoma. And the dry weather is only making things worse there. After the break we go to the frontlines of fighting those fires. How emergency teams working the beat massive fires when everything seems to be going against them.

Plus, a plane crash in the Hudson River. It has been quite a day and a dramatic rescue. All of it caught on tape, we'll show you how it unfolded when 360 continues.


COOPER: Well, as rescuers here in West Virginia try to reach 13 miners still trapped at this moment, underground, firefighters in the southern plains are dealing with a crisis of their own; massive wildfires that are still, at this hour, burning out of control.

Since the day after Christmas more than 80,000 acres have been scorched in Texas. More than 100,000 in Oklahoma and the whole region has seen little help from Mother Nature. There has been barely any rain and winds and unusually high temperatures have been fueling the flames. No relief is in sight, I'm sad to say.

The fires have claimed at least four lives, destroyed hundreds of homes. So far, what ignited most of them remains unknown, though some have been blamed on fireworks or arching power lines. CNN's Jonathan Freed takes us inside the battle to control the flames.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The sun has just come up on the first day of the year in Oklahoma and firefighters are already worried about what the day will bring.

SCOTT CURL, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: This is a long-term drought. We've been running with this for several years now, you know, it's just continuing to get worse. And we won't see any improvement.

FREED: At the state emergency management headquarters in Shawnee, Oklahoma, fire teams find out conditions are dangerously perfect, no humidity, no rain, hot temperatures, and high winds. There will be fires today, lots of fires.

The state of Oklahoma has been burning for a week. It has exhausted local fire crews. Firefighters from four Southern states have come in to help. Some drove right through New Year's Eve to make it this morning.

Oklahoma wildfire specialist Andy James will lead the visiting crews. They don't have to wait long for a call.

ANDY JAMES, OKLAHOMA FORESTRY SERVICE: We got the Black Hawk from Awaseau (ph), it will be launched and coming to help you guys out.

FREED: The fire chief in Bristol, near Tulsa, needs help. While James and his team head that way, the Black Hawk goes to work with water.

In Bristol the fire has consumed several hundred acres and is spreading fast. James' team joins a multi-front war. As spotter planes circle, James begins digging a fire line, a trench of dirt to cut off the fire from fuel.

JAMES: We try to come in from the rear and we flank it on both sides and eventually come together. And pinch the fire off.

FREED: Bulldozers are key, the plow a path, burying dry brush, creating a wall the flames can't move beyond. Next, the fire crews start a back fire, a controlled burn to consume the brush remaining inside the fire line, ideally forcing the fire to die out. After a few hours the spotter plane calls down with the word of victory -- containment. James has won this battle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole thing is looking good. Really the only thing going is just the interior.

JAMES: That's good news.

FREED: No one was hurt in this fire and no buildings burned, but there is no time to celebrate. JAMES: We've been requested to go to another fire east of here. Not exactly sure how far. Not exactly sure how far, but we're going to load up these two dozers and take the other two and head over that way.

FREED: Another fire, 15 miles away and this one is threatening homes. By the time James and his heavy equipment get there. People are out with garden hoses.

JAMES: Could you tell those guys to just knock it down a little bit.

FREED: The winds pick up, fanning the flames, and firefighters struggle while smoke shrouds the sun. A plane drops flame retardant on a dry pasture nearby, trying to protect a home. The owners watch silently as flames flicker close to their fence.

James and his crews try to dig a trench around this fire as well. It's moving too fast, but somehow they save the house. Dusk creeps in over the burnt landscape, but James' day still isn't over.

It's 12 hours since he left the command center. The second fire continues to spread, igniting surrounding fields and threatening more homes.

JAMES: I'll have that. Got mayo on it?


JAMES: Good deal.

FREED: A break for just a few minutes for a bologna sandwich, made by a grateful resident. Then it's back to work, showing a man how to protect his home with a fire line.

JAMES: Yeah, but if that hose (ph) you're keeping (ph) gets disconnected from here to there, those fire departments will burn it out. We'll keep it off this house and that will have all of this buttoned up.

FREED: But he's too late to save another home down the road. James has fought plenty of fires over the years, but this season humbles him.

JAMES: I've seen fires burn this bad in Oklahoma, don't get me wrong, but I've never seen so many, statewide, for so long. We've been at this since October and we don't have any end in sight.


FREED: Now, Anderson, I'm about 10 miles northeast of downtown Oklahoma City, which is over there in that direction. And about four homes were destroyed by a fire here in this area that started about 24 hours ago.

Now, as you can see, this home behind me here has been smoldering all day, even though firefighters initially left before dawn earlier today. Yet they were back here just a few minutes ago, pouring more water on the scene. It is just that dry -- Anderson.

COOPER: It is incredible that you can still see the smoke behind you, Jonathan. Unbelievable. Thanks very much for that tonight.

It may seem like a cruel coincidence, but wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas are directly related the heavy rains and severe flooding out West. While the effects in the two regions are totally different, the cause is coming from the same source. CNN's Rob Marciano explains.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): Fire, wind, rain, floods, what's happening in California may seem totally separate from what's going on in Texas and Oklahoma, but they are connected.

First, look at the tremendous amount of rain that has fallen in California. Since Christmas Day, Redding, California has had almost two feet of rain. Just north of there, in the mountains, Slate Creek has had over three feet of rain. And all of this has lead to flooding along the Russian River in Napa.

You fight it the whole time, until you finally just throw in the towel, I think. And realize you're not going to win.

MARCIANO: Helicopter rescues of people trapped by rushing water. Flooding water up to four-feet deep, causing up to $40 million worth of damage in the Marin County town if San Anselmo. At Mammoth Mountain, in the Sierra Nevadas has received almost 50 inches of snow in the past 24 hours.

Here's how it all comes together: The winter storm track, basically, a river of air, comes off the Pacific Ocean, picking up moisture and dumping it as in rain in most of California, and snow in the mountains. Those storms are bringing rain and snow into the Northern Plains, like Montana and Wyoming.

Here's what you might not expect. Those same storms are pulling up warm dry air off the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico and blowing them over Texas and Oklahoma, already suffering from a drought since early summer and intensifying the already high risk of fire.


MARCIANO: And it looks like conditions will once again be ripe, over the next couple of days, through the Northern Plains and Southern Plains as this current system makes its way over the Rockies and into that part of the country, once again, whipping up those winds.

The good news here tonight, in California, is that the rains the flooding rains have ended and the storm track will move to the north, and give California, at least, a bit of a break -- Anderson.

COOPER: It is amazing how it is all connected. Rob Marciano, thanks for that. We're going to be following the story of West Virginia's trapped miners, all night long. There could be another news conference, we're going to bring that to you live. And in a moment I'll also talk to the governor of West Virginia for the latest information he has on the rescue operation.

Also ahead, cheating death, a plane crashes into New York's Hudson River. The dramatic rescue is all caught on tape. We'll bring that to you as well on 360.


COOPER: West Virginia's governor, Joe Manchin, has just bee up to the site of the mine and he comes down with the latest information we have.

Governor, thanks for being with us. What do you know now that you didn't know earlier?

GOV. JOE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGINIA: Anderson, basically, they were showing me how they've been progressing and what the time consumption has been. Most people think, well, you can just start walking and walk in 12,000 feet and survey the area and that's not the case. We're concerned about the safety of the rescuers going in. And they have to make sure they're secured as they go.

We're moving rapidly until we get to the first break, as we call it. The explosion happened at the second break, up at the face. And if you could imagine going straight this way, and you have a break coming off first, then the second break. When they get to this first break we have to secure that and making sure that our rescuers don't get trapped in something -- harm's way can enter in or there might be a fire or something.

That will slow the progress down and it will probably be morning before we're able to secure and get by that. So --

COOPER: So, you're not anticipating, really, much new information until the morning?

MANCHIN: What I can tell you is the air -- they're working in what we call a free environment. They are operating without their apparatuses. That's very good. That means that there are no either fire, or we're not causing any more carbon monoxide. With that being said, they are very cautiously, as they go to secure, so it doesn't look like that we're going to be able to have all of that secured before morning, to get to the final cut or the final break, if you will, to get to the face.

They're drilling now a six-inch hole down, right at the point where the explosion happened. What we're hoping for is the explosion, the force of the explosion would have missed them and they would have been able to barricade themselves and had enough good air there to do that, still secure that, because we're showing good levels there.

But when we drill that hole we'll know more, but as we say, we're still very hopeful and hoping for miracles.

COOPER: And has the drilling actually begun?


COOPER: Because there was some question about that earlier.

MANCHIN: The drilling has begun. They're drilling a six-inch hole, which will be for monitoring and its for ventilation also. But that is going on as we speak. That is a three to four hour operation, as I'm told. And the mine, I think a lot of people believe this is like going down straight 12,000 feet. It is basically what we call a drifter slope mine. It is going back into the hillside and there is about 250 feet of cover overtop of it. So, they are on top drilling down through.

COOPER: And you've met with the rescuers?


COOPER: And how are their spirits? How are the spirits of everyone who is working up there?

MANCHIN: The rescuers, and we've got the best and the greatest people from around the state and around the country, here helping. And they're on three to four hour shifts, rotating and leapfrogging back and forth. So, they are doing everything humanly possible. And that's what we want the families to know. And we're giving them the most up-to-date information that we have.

And it is just a tough time, you know, and everyone is -- a minute seems like an hour, an hour seems like day, for the families. I've been there, so I know what they're going through. And we're going to go down and make sure that we keep them up to date.

COOPER: We just talked to some family members and it means a awful lot to them that you are here, personally, on the scene. And you have been for quite sometime. Governor Joe Manchin, appreciate you joining us with the latest information. Thank you.

MANCHIN: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: In New York, today, another dramatic rescue we want to tell you about. In the Hudson River, a plane falls from the sky, you will see for yourself how rescue workers saved two lives. It was all caught on tape, that is next on 360.


COOPER: Well, as we wait for word on the trapped miners, we might draw hope from two men who survived a near tragedy today, north of New York City. One moment they were flying over the Hudson River, the next they were in the Hudson River. The water temperature in the mid-30s, cold enough to kill you in a matter of minutes. Here's CNN's Allan Chernoff.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Two pilots from New Jersey floundering in the Hudson River just north of New York City, after engine trouble forced and emergency landing on the water. Helicopter rescue teams arrived within minutes. The Coast Guard pursuing one pilot, the New York Police Department, the other.

ANTHONY CASSILLO, NYPD PILOT: Once we got with 30, 40 feet we were able to see him. There was very little above the surface at that point, when we got there. Face and hands was all I particularly saw.

CHERNOFF: Divers plunged into the 40 degree water to nab the pilots who were rapidly losing body heat.

LIAM DEVINE, NYPD RESCUE DIVER: When I swam up to him, he didn't try to grab me, he didn't try to hold onto me. Normally, people in the water that is what they do. And so I knew he was in bad condition at that point.

(On camera): It was thanks to a retired New York City police officer that the rescuers arrived so quickly. He happened to be flying helicopter at the time of the mayday and immediately contacted NYPD Aviation; 14 minutes later the divers were in the water.

(Voice over): The precious minutes saved may have meant the difference between life and death.

DEVINE: When we put him in the basket, he wasn't trying to hold the basket. He was hypothermic. He was losing a lot of his muscle strength.

CHERNOFF: Coast Guard Rescuer Ben Bradley says the pilot he helped save looked dazed and terrified when he was pulled into the helicopter.

BEN BRADLEY, COAST GUARD: He could not say anything. He was pretty hypothermic.

CAPTAIN FRANK MESSAR, YONKERS EMS UNIT: They were here very fast. The divers were in the water very fast, and I think survival depends upon the speed with which they got up here and got in the water.

CHERNOFF: The single-engine plane was underwater not long after the crash. Both rescue teams flew the victims to Jacoby Medical Center in the Bronx. For Tony Sanseverino, who just retired from the NYPD on December 31, and now flies tourists, it is a gratifying addendum to a career of service.

TONY SANSEVERINO, CAPT., LIBERTY TOURS: When you retire it's something you turn off. I'm constantly flying, looking around, you know. So, its in me, it's in my blood.

CHERNOFF: The struggle is not over for pilots John Eberly (ph), 43, and Mark Sorrey (ph), 44. They remain under treatment for hypothermia. A hospital spokesperson tonight said they were in fair condition.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.


COOPER: So, here is the latest information. Two teams are leapfrogging to try to rescue these miners. They are at last count at about 5,000 feet into the mine. The miners are believed to be about 10,000 feet into this mine. The drilling has begun, the governor has confirmed that. But it is a slow process. And as the governor, here, himself said the minutes feel like hours for the families who are waiting. And they will be waiting all night.

We will continue to cover this story all night, brining you any developments as they happen, live. A special edition of "Larry King" is next, an hour on the mine rescue mission here in West Virginia. Stay with CNN throughout the evening, throughout the night and the morning, for the very latest.



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