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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

In West Virginia, Joy Turns to Sorrow; Mine Officials' Explanation; Sharon Gravely Ill after Suffering Stroke; Colorado School Trains Mine Rescuers; Mine Workers Union Pledges Investigation Into Incident

Aired January 4, 2006 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The only survivor of the mine disaster has almost completely expanded (ph) again. Doctors say he also suffers from a kidney dysfunction and has other medical problems involving multiple organs. Randy McCloy, who was listed as being in critical, but stable condition is sedated again; but earlier today, was able to respond to doctors and his wife.
We're going to look at his medical condition with our own Dr. Sonjay Gupta, in a moment.

And this evening, where last night there was relief, gratitude and jubilation; tonight, there are candles. A vigil was held earlier at the Sago Baptist Church; the very place in which, not very many hours ago it seems, family members rejoiced over news that was in fact too good to be true, where hope was distinguished in the early morning dark. Flames now are lit in memory of the dead.

It is still hard really for anyone here, I think, to come to terms with what happened last night. It's probably going to be hard for quite some time, if they're ever able to really figure it all out.

A little less than 24 hours ago we had received word -- the word that everyone, really, was hoping for, that the miners were alive. We watched as family members celebrated. It just happened just a few hundred yards over there, less than 24 hours ago.

Then just three hours later, we saw that joy turn to grief and anger, as word came out that only one miner -- not 12, survived the accident. I mean, it was hard enough for those of us on the outside to see this transformation. You can't imagine what it was like, nor can we, to be on the inside, to know the men who died.

John Casto was a friend of one of the lost miners. Here's how he describes what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN CASTO, FRIEND OF MINERS: Me and my brother was in the community building, we call it. And when we was waiting, we just heard a commotion, people hollering and shouting and saying they're alive! They're alive! And somebody came through the back door. I don't know who it was. And they said that there was a miracle. There are miracles. There are 12 people alive in the mines and one dead. We was told that the ambulance would go over and pick them up and they would bring them over and they would feed them. And we rejoiced for the ones that was alive. And we mourned for the one that was lost.

And the pastor asked people to come up and pray for the one who was gone. And you know, there was three people came up to that alter and prayed. Because I notice things like that. And there was tears flowing down their eyes. And I began to pray with them. And there was tears flowing down my eyes.

And we waited and waited. It must have been three and a half hours. But the loved ones and the family was out on the porch, wrapped in blankets, awaiting for their fathers or their brothers to come up and just give them a hug. And when we began to see the black vehicles come up through there and the state police, and they all come in there, we still thought they was alive.

There was somebody come up there. I think it was a mine official, and said we're sorry for the delay. And I'm here to tell you the truth now. And he said that there was one survivor. And I believe that everybody was stunned because they didn't really understand what he was saying.

There was a couple people who understood what he said and they began to shout and curse. But just a few minutes before that, they was praising God and then they was cursing because they thought they lost a loved one -- well, they knew they did at the time.

But anyway, they got them settled down. And another one asked, said, what are you saying? And this guy said there are 12 dead and one alive. And you know it hit them people's hearts so hard. They didn't know what to do. They didn't know to do at all. But you know, they began to holler and curse. And our pastor, we stayed, got them settled down and he said, look toward God in this tragedy. And one guy said, what in the hell has God done for us?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Strong words. We've heard a lot of strong words and a lot of strong emotions in these last several days. There are still a lot of questions tonight as to how that miscommunication happened, how it could have happened and how families of the dead miners were allowed to celebrate for three hours before getting the horrible news. Because that's what we learned today. They were allowed to celebrate. Mine officials knew the information -- or at least at 12:30 a.m., about 45 minutes or so after the mining families had been told that the miners were alive.

Mine officials got that first word that no, in fact the worst news had happened. It was only one miner who had survived. And they chose not to share that information. They chose not to try to dampen the enthusiasm. They say they wanted to corroborate the facts. They say they weren't sure if that report was true as well. They have now said today, that was a mistake, that they wished that they had come down and just told the families, you know what, we don't know what all the facts are, we're still looking into it.

Today, the authorities in charge of the mine, well they offered an explanation as well. Here's CNN's Brian Todd. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN HATFIELD, CEO, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: We'd like to set the record straight.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESONDENT, (voice-over): Officials from International Coal Group offered tearful apologies and expressed regret in a long news conference. President Ben Hatfield says the problems started when the first report from rescuers underground came over a speaker, heard throughout the mine office and was misunderstood by many.

HATFIELD: and you have a desperate group of people that have been on their feet for anywhere from 30 to 40 hours, trying to save lives. They were looking desperately for good information.

TODD: The erroneous report of 12 survivors spread quickly by cell phone to the church, where relatives were gathered, despite what company officials say were explicit instructions.

GENE KITTS, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: My management went to everyone, every office, every place and said, this is something that we cannot release until we are certain of facts. So don't communicate anything outside until it's certainly confirmed. But that obviously didn't happen.

TODD: Officials say it was 45 minutes later when they got the first contradictory report, indicating there were 12 dead, not 12 alive. They decided to wait until they were certain of the situation before briefing the families. And they say they realize now it was a mistake to let the celebration continue unchecked for so long, increasing the disappointment.

EARL CASTO, COUSIN OF MINER: I was angry, but it's just something that just you can't hardly believe -- it's something you just can't hardly believe. Yes. I don't believe it yet. The way it was handled.

TODD: Hatfield says if he had to do it over again, he would have made changes on what he calls the worst day of his life. What would I have done differently? I would have personally gone to the church when we got the conflicting information.

(On camera): Company officials say the overall investigation into this incident and the breakdown in communications is already underway. In the meantime, the State Medical examiner's office says autopsies on the 12 miners will be conducted on Thursday and Friday. Brian Todd, CNN, Tallmansville, West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And of course, what they're hoping to find is more information on exactly what happened in that mine. Because at this point, we still do not know how long those miners were alive for. Obviously, we're hoping to hear from the sole survivor as well when and if he becomes able to tell. But autopsies also will at least be able to determine perhaps a close approximation of a time of death.

The problems though did not begin last night. There are still a lot of concerns about how this tragedy was handled from the moment the explosion happened, back on Monday morning around 6:20 or 6:30 a.m. We've been having disturbing reports -- or hearing disturbing reports about the mine safety violations before this crisis. CNN's Tom Foreman investigated that angle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Federal officials for mine safety now say they shut down parts of the Sago Mine 18 times last year. But despite that and despite the loss of life, they are defending their decision not to do more.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, says those safety conditions in the mine did not warrant closure of entire mine.

Nonetheless, MSHA and state officials will lead the investigation, reconstructing a timeline, which some mining analysts says has troubling details.

DAN KATE, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERCIA: I think it needs to be a complete, a thorough and a truthful investigation of everything that happened leading up to this.

FOREMAN: Dawn, Monday, the explosion. A local emergency official says the only 911 call comes about an hour and a half later, and it's for a single ambulance. No mention is made of a blast, trapped miners or potentially numerous casualties. Why? No explanation yet from the company.

Noon, as rescue teams arrive, a county official says they cannot enter the mine because a wall of debris is blocking the passage. Two hours later, the coal company says there is no substantial debris. Contaminated air is stopping entry.

6:00 p.m., it's more than 11 hours after the blast and dark before searchers finally go into the mine. Other rescuers start drilling a hole to where the trapped men might be.

Dawn of the second day, the rescuers are almost two miles in. But a camera and a microphone in the drill hole show no signs of life ahead. And worse, carbon monoxide levels three times above lethal.

HATFIELD: But we all continue to push forward as hard as we can, so long as there is hope.

FOREMAN: By noon, mine company officials are saying they were overly conservative in the earlier stages of the rescue, vowing to move quicker.

9:00 p.m., it's no use. The first body is found. And as the night passes, the rest are discovered too. Including the lone survivor.

HATFIELD: It is always possible that if we had gotten there sooner, we could have saved more miners.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: So was anything improper in the handling of all of this? With these inconsistencies, these apparent problems along the way, that's what the investigation is all about. And that's where the big question is on this issue.

The only reason we know these things about the federal investigators, MSHA, is because today there was a bit of a reporter's revolution. MSHA wanted to hold a telephone conference with many reporters and tell them all sorts of things about this on background -- not for retribution, not on the record, all sorts of things like that. What happens, is one after another, they leave us on the phone, including me, sort of lit into them and said this is 48 hours plus into a major disaster. You are the federal agency paid by taxpayers to protect people in mines and you're not answering questions. Based on that, they finally started answering questions.

Why are they so uneasy? Hard to say. They didn't say anything really inflammatory today, nothing to be really worried about. But I will say this. Certain people I've talked to throughout this story, certainly the labor people I talked to today said this, but others have as well. They feel that in recent years the shift of the federal regulators toward being friendlier toward the business operators, not wanting to close their mines, not wanting to put too much pressure on them, not wanting to be too strong in their criticism or their punishment of the mines. They've suggested has created too cozy of a relationship. And now, as they're pointing out, one of the primary investigating agencies in this will be MSHA, the very agency that said ahead of time, the mine was operating within safety limits, even if it had problems.

Obviously there are state investigators as well. I talked to them today. They're clearly concerned about what happened here and want to have a strong investigation. There seems little doubt that unless there is a very strong above-board and transparent investigation, many of these families and many people in the industry will be very concerned about the result -- Anderson.

COOPER: And transparency, as you well know, Tom, of course, that is the key. And you know it's interesting, Tom, that so many of the family members have said to us that they were glad that the reporters from all around the country were here to witness what happened here over the last you know 24 hours especially, because otherwise all of this would have happened anyway, but no one else would have known about it. It all would have just you know, happened to the family members, this rollercoaster, this up and down of emotions. And no one would have ever been aware of it. And it would have all sort of just gotten swept under the rug and just left to the families to deal with. And I'm sure the fact that so many reporters are here, in terms of the investigation, is going to aid in that transparency.

FOREMAN: Well, there is no question it is creating some pressure -- no question today. It created pressure on MSHA, and that's why things happened. It was sort of an information extortion that ended up happening in the end. People saying you got to tell us something here. I'll tell you what it is, Anderson, and you know this well -- what we're seeing here are shades of the fallout from the FEMA debacle. People are saying it's not enough to say trust us. You need to show us we can trust you.

COOPER: Yes. We've all become part of the show me state. Tom, keep it going. Good on you, and we'll check in with you tomorrow.

The American Red Cross has had an active role throughout this crisis. Joining me now to discuss the role and what it was like inside that church is Jana Zehner.

Jana, thanks very much for being with us. You got to the church after the family members had received word from unnamed mine officials that the miners were still alive. When you arrived, that atmosphere must have been electric.

JANA ZEHNER, AMERICAN RED CROSS SPOKESWOMAN: It absolutely was. I walked in, they were singing, "I'll Fly Away," which is one of my favorite hymns. So, walking in to that and seeing it was so powerful. And so tragic to have it change so quickly.

COOPER: What was it like -- I mean, I talked to one state trooper who was there, you know, when the announcement was made that no, in fact 12 of the miners had died and only one had survived. Again, what was that like?

ZEHNER: I was in the back of the church when that announcement came through, so it took a minute to filter back. It was a little bit hard to hear what was going on, but you sort of instantly heard this anguish in people's voices and it was just horrific to hear. It was truly heartbreaking.

COOPER: And the state trooper I talked to said that there was this initial anger, someone tried to rush the stage. You know, there was talk and a lot of harsh words spoken. But that very quickly kind of moved into this other stage of people still wanting information and still, you know, realizing that well, you know, right now shouting isn't going to get us anything. We just need to know what happened.

ZEHNER: With the up and down of emotions all day long, certainly people are going to have a wide range of reactions. Some people were in shock, some people were in tears, some people were obviously angry. And you know, they had every right to be. They had questions. They wanted answers. And some were still in doubt. You know, could it possibly be a wrong report again? But very quickly, they took comfort in their family, listened to the governor speak, listened to the mining officials and got some of the answers they needed.

COOPER: Is there something you -- I mean, you've worked with the Red Cross for awhile. Is there something you've learned over the last several days here that you will take with you to the next incident, God forbid something else like this happens again?

ZEHNER: You know, I was amazed by our mental health workers, and I've worked with them on so many disasters and watched what they're capable of doing, but seeing this -- which, they're part of this community. So this was just as hard on them because it was their friends that were down there. It was their family members that they watched go through this. And still, they pulled together, they did their job, they used their training and they offered comfort. And it was really amazing to watch.

COOPER: There have been so many shifting reports, family members saying different things. One family member had told someone else at CNN that the Red Cross maybe had relayed some of this information. You say categorically that that did not happen?

ZEHNER: Right. Right. Well, when the mine came out today and said that that did come from their people, you know, it was something we wanted to look into immediately. And last night was very confusing. Information, as we all know, came from everyone and we all talked about it and we were all excited about it. But we were -- we felt a lot better when we knew that the min --

COOPER: Yes, I think that -- I do think that press conference really cleared up a lot. I mean, the fact that numerous people involved in the rescue effort were using cell phones, though they had been told not to, and were calling. It wasn't just one person. It seems like it was a number of people. And really, to have mine officials come out and say, you know what, we're sorry. We made a mistake. We really should have come down to that church. Do you think that would have made a big difference in how people responded to the news, had they just come down earlier? I mean I guess you never know.

ZEHNER: Exactly. It would be hard no matter what. You know, when you're getting that information, it would have been bad. I know that the mine officials and governor's office were really focusing on making sure they had absolutely accurate information before they made any kind of a report. But it was just -- it was too hard on people to have to reach that point of joy and then that point of anguish back to back.

COOPER: The Red Cross has been doing great work here over the last couple of days. I think I've drunk a lot of your soup and wore one of your ponchos for a while. I appreciate all you've done, Jana Zehner.

ZEHNER: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you very much. A lot of good people from the Red Cross here volunteering. A lot of long hard hours here.

Lest we forget in our sadness, that one man did survive those hours in the Sago Mine. We'll bring you the latest on how Randy McCloy, Jr., a 26-year-old father of four, and the ultimate family- man, his brother says, we'll find out how he is doing at this hour.

And we'll go where miners go every day, leaving the sunlight behind, down into the hole, down into the earth, into a mine very like the one that claimed 12 lives at Sago.

From West Virginia and around the world, you're watching 360.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, our nation mourns those who lost their lives in the mining accident in West Virginia. We send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to the loved ones whose hearts are broken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I want to give you some sense of how things may stand from a medical point of view for Randy McCloy, the only survivor or the 13 men trapped in the Sago Mine. We turn now live in Atlanta, to our own Dr. Sonjay Gupta, who joined me early this morning as well.

Sonjay, from what you can tell, from what you've heard, and when you talked to the doctors last night, how does it sound for Randy?

SONJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It sounds good, Anderson. Very optimistic. It's been about 20 hours now since he's been in this other hospital -- the bigger hospital, the university hospital. He went there and he, you know, it was pretty serious conditions, like his lung was collapsed, he may have had some carbon monoxide poisoning. He was in a semi-conscious state.

All parameters, all measurable parameters seem to have improved. First of all, Anderson, you and I talked about getting a brain scan last night. We decided that was important for him and he certainly did get one. The doctors said that that looked normal. His carbon monoxide levels were not that high. His lung has been re-inflated now, as well. Perhaps the most encouraging thing is, although he has a breathing tube and he can't speak because of that, he was able to interact it sounds like in meaningful ways with his wife. He actually squeezed her hand. That's very significant. If someone can actually squeeze a hand when told to, that means that they're hearing a command and they're actually executing a specific action based on what they're hearing. That denotes a lot of significant brain function still intact.

He's still being sedated, which is important because if you're not sedated, you tend to become quite aggravated by the breathing tube. They will probably start to slowly lift that sedation over the next day or so and get a better sense of exactly how he's going to be. Still a little bit early to tell, but everything looking very positive right now -- Anderson.

COOPER: Also, the news that they're going to be autopsying all of the minors -- from an autopsy, what can they determine about the time of death, the cause of death -- I mean, how much information can they glean?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, it could be fairly significant. They might be able to tell just how high the carbon monoxide levels were in the blood. Some of that becomes a little bit more difficult with time as time passes to be able to tell that. They might be able to also tell if some of the deaths were actually due to natural causes in extreme circumstances. Meaning that the extreme circumstances may have prompted a heart attack or something like that, as opposed to a death from a concussive injury due to the explosion, or as opposed to a death from carbon monoxide poisoning in and of itself. So some of these things may become a little bit more apparent. But I think you're right, Anderson, there's going to be probably a lot of questions unanswered still, based on the autopsies alone. It'll be interesting to see if Randy McCloy -- if he's awake enough and remembers enough from what happened in the mine, would be able to shine a little bit more light on that.

COOPER: So it's possible he may not remember?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, it's hard to say. You know, we've got sort of conflicting reports last night on so many things, including this, but with regard to the carbon monoxide. At the first hospital, you may remember they said that his carbon monoxide levels were normal. At the second hospital, they said that they were previously high and were now coming down. The reason that's important is because if the carbon monoxide levels were high in his blood, what that does to you a lot of times is make you drowsy, make you sluggish, may make you put into a semi-conscious state where you just can't remember things. We just don't know the answer to that right now. I don't know if that happened to him; and if so, how much that would affect his memory, his recollection of what happened there.

COOPER: Sonjay, I appreciate all your expertise. But just one more, just briefly, on the autopsy, will -- I mean, on TV they're always able to determine a time of death. Can they do that, do you think in this case?

GUPTA: They get some sense of it. Certainly not with the degree of accuracy that I think many people might expect. With something like this, you'd like to know down to the few minute range. I don't think you're going to be able to tell that. On the other hand, you might be able to tell, look, you know, this person died of a concussive injury as a result of the explosion. And the explosion happened at this time, so you could sort of piece together things that way. But you know, when you have such high -- looking at body temperature, for example, is one way that you might be able to tell a time of death. But because they were in hypothermic sort of situation to start with, that' just going to be hard to do, Anderson. So I wouldn't bank a lot of money on being able to tell precisely time of death at the autopsy.

COOPER: And of course, the reason I ask that, the reason it's important to a lot of people, is just trying to find out exactly what happened, if Randy McCloy is not able to fill in all the blank spaces that we have right now. You know, a lot of people want to know if for chance rescuers had been able to get there sooner, if help had come quicker, would it have made a difference? I think a lot of families would sort of like to just get a sense of exactly what went on with their loved one. Sonjay, appreciate your joining us. Thanks very much.

GUPTA: Sure. Thank you.

COOPER: Dr. Sonjay Gupta, in Atlanta.

Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS" joins us now with a quick look at some of the other stories we're following tonight. Hi Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Anderson. An update for you on a tragedy we've been following on the other side of the globe in southern Germany. Four more bodies found today in the rubble of a collapsed skating rink, bringing the death toll now to 15. Police believe they have recovered all of the victims. Eighteen people were injured when the roof of that skating rink caved in on Monday under heavy snow. Thirteen remain hospitalized.

In Louisiana, at least four people are confirmed dead in a fiery crash that may involve radioactive materials. The accident happened on Interstate 10, when an eastbound car crossed the median and collided head on with a truck, believed to be carrying x-ray equipment, used (ph) a chemical blend. State troopers have shut down the highway.

And a so-called suspicious passenger, arrested when this plane landed in San Jose, California, does not appear to be related to terrorism. Now, here's what happened. Some other passengers on the plane noticed the man, who was clutching a backpack, had the words, suicide bomber, written on his journal. He also reportedly was talking about bombs. But the FBI says the words on the journal appeared to refer to music. The 36-year-old suspect was released to his family.

A little scary for folks on that flight, though, for a moment.

COOPER: Unbelievable. Erica, thanks very much. Erica Hill.

You know, so a question remains and we've heard a lot today from a lot of different people. Why did it take so long to send -- to get information to the families? And some are asking why did it take so long to send rescue crews into the mine? Tonight, we're finding out that teams trained to deal with these kinds of mining disasters have been phased out in some parts of the country. We'll take a look and investigate that.

Also tonight, a closer look at mining. Why it consistently remains one of the most dangerous and deadly jobs in the nation, despite all the improvements.

You're watching 360.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe -- they straight out lied to millions of people watching. And all the families here, as you can tell, there's probably 20,000 people waiting for good news and we got it. And it was nothing but lies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN BREAKING NEWS)

COOPER: And we bring you some breaking news out of Jerusalem. Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of surgery, we are told, but still fighting for his life tonight. He suffered a major stroke earlier tonight. His surgery ended just moments ago, according to Israeli radio, citing hospital sources. Israeli radio, citing hospital sources. There is no word on his condition. We are told there could be a hospital statement at 11:45 p.m. Eastern Time. CNN John Vause is there and will bring us any updates as he monitors that press conference. Stay tuned to our program for the latest developments out of Israel.

(END BREAKING NEWS)

Tomorrow, when the public hearings in the mining tragedy begin, the testimony may very well include the effort to save the trapped men. From the very beginning, it was a race against time. All involved knew that. But were the rescuers battling another obstacle? Here's CNN's David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): When an explosion trapped 13 miners at the Sago Mine early Monday morning, there was no trained rescue team at the mine, on the ready to respond. According to mine safety advocates, such teams used to be a common operating procedure in the industry. But they were eventually phased out at most mines because they were used too infrequently to justify the expense.

TIM BAKER, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA: Well, you know, I think that anytime that you have a delay getting qualified and trained individuals to the site, it obviously backs you up. It creates a slowed pace at the beginning when maybe there could have been an attempt to go in the mine.

MATTINGLY: In this case, specially trained rescue teams were assembled from around West Virginia. They could not enter the Sago Mine until nearly 12 hours after the explosion, waiting for poisonous gases to be vented out.

BEN HATFIELD, CEO, INT'L. COAL GROUP: It is always possible that if we had gotten there sooner we could have saved more miners and it was our determination and fervent effort from the day this happened to get there as quickly as we could.

MATTINGLY: The drilling of holes to locate the trapped miners didn't begin until about 21 hours after the explosion. The drilling equipment was not on site and had to be brought in as well. Mines are not required to keep such equipment on hand, but even in this case drilling had to wait until officials were able to make critical decisions on where to drill. DAVITT MCATEER, MINE SAFETY EXPERT: What we need to do is look at ways to increase the efficiency and increase the speed with which we can get both teams and equipment to the sites.

MATTINGLY: There is no way to say right now if the time it took to assemble teams and gather equipment actually slowed down the response. And while it may appear that there is no such thing as a quick and easy mine rescue, the tragedy at Sago Mine still shows that no rescue can be quick enough. David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: When something goes wrong deep inside a coal mine, what does it take to find the victims and bring them to safety? We're going to show you how the rescuers are trained to save lives and protect their own. We'll take you inside a mine.

Also tonight, breaking news, the man who has spent more than half a century shaping events in the Middle East, now fighting for his life after a major stroke. An update on Ariel Sharon's condition from Israel, in a moment, on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, the tragedy at Sago Mine unfolded, for the most part, deep underground, out of sight, in the dark, damp tunnels, where generations of miners have made their living, often paying with their health and sometimes their lives.

When something goes wrong in a coal mine, as it did on Monday, finding the victims quickly is crucial. And it is a difficult and dangerous job, there is no doubt about that. And it requires special training. CNN's Gary Tuchman takes a look at exactly what kind of training.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For 60 years this was an active mine in the Rocky Mountains. Now the deer ramble above one of the entrances of a mine that is now part of the Colorado School of Mines. The Edgar Mine is used for training for the Colorado School of Mines, an esteemed institution, in Golden, Colorado.

And right now, we are going down the shaft, hundreds of feet into the mine, one of the shafts that go into this mine. And I'm being followed by a student here, at the Colorado School of Mines, Bracken Spencer is coming down. He's a senior, who is majoring in mining engineering.

We wear safety gear because this is still a mine, where you have to take the proper precautions, helmets, glasses, boots. We have these devices that convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.

What are these called?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are the Duffy 65 Self-Rescuer. In case of fire and a build up of carbon monoxide, a miner will be able to get themselves out safely.

TUCHMAN: With us is Bob Farreter (ph). Bob, you're title?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am the director of mine safety here at the Colorado School of Mines.

TUCHMAN: You train mine rescuers. Not just the students, but who else do you train?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We train adults. We train mine rescue teams for coal mines, metal mines here in the West. We train DOD personnel and fire departments.

TUCHMAN: OK, now this smoke that is set up for your students, to give you and idea of what rescuers go through when they are trying to rescue, you can't see anything, so how are you supposed to find people who are trapped inside a mine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the first thing we do is we provide the rescue team a map of where they're going in the mine. So they have a general idea. Secondly, you can follow the rail here, you can see that through the smoke a little bit. You can take a walk along that, so you can follow that.

You can grab that compressed air line or water line along the rib. That also gives you some guidance as to where you are going in the mine. And then, if you really have to, you can get down on the floor and crawl.

TUCHMAN: Ventilation, what do you teach rescue --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ventilation, ventilation is a very important topic for mine rescue team. You have to know how to change the ventilation in the mine, so you can sweep out the contaminated air, the smoke, and the contaminants, and bring fresh air in so you can proceed with the rescue.

TUCHMAN: We're also here with administrators, with the director of the mine. I have to ask you guys this -- I know you don't know exactly what happened yesterday, I don't want you to speculate. But do you have any idea at all, based on your expertise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd say at this point, we are just totally mystified. The way the (INAUDIBLE) laws are set up, there are redundancies, back ups to keep methane build ups from happening. And to have the concentration build up to the point where it exploded is just beyond anything we can imagine.

TUCHMAN: How do you communicate? Radios don't work down here? How -- mean, that is a big issue, obviously with this situation -- communication.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, most of the time it is hand signals and voice communication. Of course, that is hampered by the fact that you are wearing protective devices, SCBAs, so communication is a problem. It always is a problem. TUCHMAN: What are SCBAs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Self-contained breathing apparatus. Yes, oxygen in the apparatus.

TUCHMAN: These are all the things I'm learning today. You're talking about going into another room, if you are a miner, to get away from the gases.

This is (INAUDIBLE), you can get an idea of how heavy this door is. Look out, I don't want to hurt you. You just have an idea of this door, this is a place where miners should go if something should happen down here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This could be used as a refuge chamber, yes.

TUCHMAN: You have set up, though, an obstacle course to simulate for rescuers who come in here, students, what its like to rescue. It's dark in here, it is smoky in here. You see this tunnel, it's very narrow and you are wearing this bulky gear. And I went through here a little while ago and it took a long time to go through because you can barely fit. You can imagine if you are much bigger person than I am, it would be very hard to fit.

But his gives you and idea of what the students go through. The climb through here, the go through and obstacle course and it gives you and idea of when people are trapped, what they go through in the dark and the smoke.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for talking with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're welcome.

TUCHMAN: This mine primarily was used from the late 1800s to the middle of the 20th century to mine gold, to mine silver, to mine copper. But it is very similar what happened in these to coal mines. But right now, it is just a training facility to train the rescuers of today and tomorrow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: About 300 people train here in Idaho Springs, Colorado, every year. Most of them are mining company employees. Now the authorities here are not sure if any of the rescuers in West Virginia trained here, but either way, they feel a lot of compassion for those rescuers, as well, of course, a lot of sorrow for the victims, Anderson.

COOPER: Certainly heroic efforts on the part of the rescuers here for all those involved. Gary Tuchman appreciate that.

There is still really a mystery of exactly what caused this explosion, of course. And how the misinformation got out and was mis- communicated. Perhaps a little piece of the puzzle put together here tonight, Dennis O'Dell of the United Mine Workers of America was in the staging area at the mouth of the mine, during the search and rescue operations. He joins me now.

Thanks for being with us. You talked the rescuers who found the bodies of these miners, what did they tell you about what they told the company?

DENNIS O'DELL, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA: Initially -- you have to understand how communications, the public needs to understand how communications underground works.

The mine rescue team, at the site where the bodies were found, were using walkie-talkies. And they relayed the information back to a fresh air base, where another set of mine rescue members were. And what they said, was: We found 12 bodies, one is alive.

That information got to the fresh air base, where the other mine rescue members were, and they thought they heard, we found the bodies, all of them are alive. The in turn phoned that information outside to the command center. So, that is how --

COOPER: And then someone at the command center, we learned at the press conference today, that information came over sort of a loudspeaker, that lots of people had access to -- heard from -- and that is how that information got out. People just started getting on the phones to their friends and family.

O'DELL: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's what happened. And that's a shame because we've been involved in accident investigations before, the United Mine Workers of America, and when we sit in the command center -- we weren't in the command center this time -- but we insist that when information comes from underground that that information is verified, that we make sure we have the right information, the correct information. We go back and forth, back and forth before any of that is ever released to the public, to the press, to the family members.

Because you can only imagine, and I lived through this at Jim Waters (ph) Mine, when 13 miners were killed in Alabama in 2001. The hopes and dreams of the families, as long as they've been out here, you keep your hopes and prayers alive that things will be successful. But in your heart, as time goes, you know, it's harder to keep it upbeat. It's harder to stay, to keep that hope alive.

COOPER: Right.

O'DELL: So, then they hear the message that their family -- that they're safe, that they're OK, that they're alive. And then even, a more harmful thing is to allow three hours to go by.

COOPER: That's -- that's -- I don't think anyone can wrap their minds -- or explain away that. I mean, the president of the company apologized today, but you know, the damage has already been done on that.

Let's talk about the safety of this mine. The violations it has accrued, especially over the last year or so. In your opinion, a safe mine? You've looked at the violations. O'DELL: We pulled up the records for last year, for the last half of last year. And what we saw, we saw a trend, an increase of the number of violations that were written, S&S and 103D orders. And so that leads you to believe, when you see those numbers increasing, that there are problems in the mine.

I mean, inspectors go underground, they inspect the coal mine. They can't make up what they write on paper, the conditions that exist that they put down as far as the violation or a citation goes.

COOPER: How tough is the inspection process? Because I've looked at some of these fines and they are like 200 bucks. I mean, it is not as if it is -- it's very rare that the federal government, federal inspectors will actually shut down a mine, correct?

O'DELL: It has to be an eminent danger.

COOPER: Eminent danger?

O'DELL: Yes. Unfortunately, they have the power and authority -- fortunately, they have the power and the authority to do that. And they need to do that more often than they don't. This agency, the federal mine inspectors, the state agencies, they need to get back to the grass roots of shutting the coal mine down when they find conditions like this. They have gotten away from that. And they need to get back to what the Mine Act allows them to do. They are an enforcement agency. They need to get back to the enforcement. And if they do that we'll see less of this happening.

COOPER: There are going to be some people who are going to hear what you say and say, look, you are a representative of a mining union, this is a non-union mine. Of course, you are going to find fault with this mine.

O'DELL: That's -- no. Let me tell you something, United Mine Workers were here. We had probably 90 percent of our members were on the mine rescue teams. And in the event of something like this happens coal miners are coal miners whether they are union or non- union.

Our union was formed on protecting miners' rights. And these individuals that work here don't have a voice. We came up, President Roberts, Secretary-Treasurer Caine (ph) sent us up here to offer their support any way we could help. We had mine rescue members on the ground, we came up to support them. And --

COOPER: Are you confident that whatever investigation is done by federal authorities, by federal mine authorities, that it is going to be transparent? That it is going be as tough as it should be, as thorough as it should be?

O'DELL: I think the magnitude of this investigation, it is going to be under a lot of people's eyes. We're going to be a part of this investigation, as well. So we're going to make sure that the family members have a thorough investigation done at this coal mine, because they deserve that. They deserve to know what happened. They deserve to see the outcome and we're going to be the driving force to make sure that happens.

COOPER: Dennis, appreciate you joining us. Thank you.

O'DELL: Thank you.

COOPER: Thanks for taking the time.

Still a lot ahead tonight, breaking news, Jerusalem is drawing the world's attention tonight. Israel's Ariel Sharon is fighting for his life. The prime minister suffered a major stroke. We're going to have the latest on his condition when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, Erica Hill from Headlines News joins us with some of the other stories we are following right now.

Hey, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN NEWS ANCHOR, 360: Hey, Anderson.

President Bush is predicting U.S. troop levels will soon drop in Iraq. He says the mission this year is to continue to hand over more territory and responsibility to Iraqi forces. The president says that as Iraqi troops take the lead U.S. troops can withdraw. And U.S. commanders have told him current troop levels can drop by as much as 7,000.

Miami, Florida, another guilty plea from a former top Washington lobbyists. Today Jack Abramoff admitted to wire fraud and conspiracy in connection with his purchase of a Florida casino boat venture, six years ago. Yesterday, Abramoff pleaded guilty to similar charges concerning other dealings and also agree to cooperate in a federal investigation that could involve several congressional lawmakers.

In the meantime, in Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney defending the president's decision to allow a domestic eavesdropping without a warrant. He says it is critical for national security and claims others in Washington are downplaying the terror threat. Critics say the program violates civil liberties.

And in Turkey health officials say a 14-year-old boy has died from bird flu. It is the first none human death from the illness outside of China and Southeast Asia. The boy's sister is also said to be suffering from bird flu, a third case is suspected. The World Health Organization is checking into the report.

Sorry to end on such a down note, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Erica, thanks so much.

Tonight's other major story comes out of Jerusalem. We have breaking news on Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has suffered a major stroke. Let's go to CNN's John Vause for the latest.

John, what is the latest? JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a number of reports now that doctors have finished operating on Ariel Sharon. He spent more than six hours on the operating table and incredibly long time for anybody, especially, for a man who is about to turn 78 next month.

It is still unclear what took so long. All the early indications were from hospital officials that this procedure to try and relieve the bleeding in his brain, that was a result of that significant stroke, should have taken somewhere between two, maybe three hours. The length of the operation could be an indication that there were complications, that the bleeding may have been worse than originally thought at this stage. We just don't know.

We are expecting a statement any moment now, from officials here at Hadassah Hospital -- Anderson.

COOPER: The reports that you are hearing, we're seeing Israeli radio, what are they basing their reports on?

VAUSE: Israeli radio getting their information from un-named hospital sources. There are also reports coming from the Israeli television stations, Channel 1. And also in the Israeli newspapers, the "Harratz" (ph) newspaper, all of them so far quoting un-named hospital sources, that the operation has finished.

That a pretty good indication that it has finished because we've been told to expect some kind of statement from the officials here. Any moment now, in fact there are a few minutes late with that statement, Anderson.

COOPER: John, how long has he been in the hospital? And how did he get to the hospital? I understand he started feeling bad while -- over the weekend, while he was at his country house, is that correct?

VAUSE: That's right. I just want to check my watch. He arrived here just on eight hours ago. Last night, Israeli time, he was feeling unwell, whilst he was on his ranch in the southern part of Israel. He complained of weakness, of chest pains. He was actually with his personal physician at the time, who made the decision not to airlift, not to fly the prime minister to the hospital, but to rather drive him here in an ambulance. It is a trip which takes just over an hour, about 100 miles or so. On the way, they passed another hospital, they arrived here a 10:56 p.m. local time. As I said, about eight hours ago.

About an hour after he arrived here, he underwent an MRI, then it was discovered that he had this massive bleeding on the brain, that he had suffered a significant stroke. The rushed him to hospital, he was on a resuscitator for quite some time. And he has been on the operating table, if these reports are accurate, and we believe that they are, for more than six hours, going onto close to seven hours, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. John Vause, monitoring the situation. John, we'll check in with you shortly. Tonight, President Bush issued a statement concerning the health of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The president said, and I quote, "Laura and I share the concerns of the Israeli people about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's health and we are praying for his recovery. Prime Minister Sharon is a man of courage and peace. On behalf of all Americans, we send our best wishes and hopes to the prime minister and his family."

Want to get some insight on Sharon's condition. Coming up we'll talk with CNN's Doctor Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon himself.

John Vause is standing by -- John, what do you know?

VAUSE: We are about to have a statement from the director general of Hadassah Hospital, we can see them, they are going to the microphones. We should expect this statement at any moment now. And then this initial statement will be to the Israeli media, we understand it will be in Hebrew. Once they've given this statement, we are expecting an English statement to shortly follow.

DR. SHLOMO MOR-YOSEF, DIR. GEN., HADASSAH MEDICAL CENTRE: (through translator): ...yesterday evening, he arrived unconscious, with high blood pressure. And our initial diagnosis was one of a significant SVA. He then went to the admitting unit. The reason for the SVA was inter-cranial bleeding and as a result he was immediately taken to the operating theater. And he is still in the operating theater.

In the course of the operation, the bleeding has been stopped. The prime minister has received drugs to stop the bleeding in addition to the operation, as such, as part of the operating procedure. A CT has been carried out for evaluation purposes, to again see effect that the operation has had on the brain and its results.

As a result the prime minister has been taken back to the operating theater and we are now continuing with the same operation. There being additional areas that have to be treated. A brain operation is a lengthy one, protracted. It is being carried out by Professor Omanski (ph), the head of the department, together with Doctor Jose Cohen (ph). And of course, they prime minister is anesthetized and is on a respirator in the course of this operation.

We expect the operation to continue several more hours. Some of that time, involves waiting time in order for him to be taken off the treatment, which was anti-clotting and also in order for the drugs that he's been given that encourage clotting to take effect.

The prime minister is in a condition where he, as we say, has been given a breathing assistance, anesthesia, there is bleeding in the head area, inter-cranial bleeding. And we can say that the situation is a serious one.

COOPER: The situation is serious. The situation is serious. The surgery continues, that the word out of that press conference. Our own neurosurgeon, Doctor Sanjay Gupta, is standing by.

Sanjay, what do you make of that?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is very serious. I guess that goes without saying, Anderson.

What we're talking about here is someone who has had a significant bleed in the brain, it sounds like. And went to the operating room probably while some of the blood thinning medications were still affective, mean it was just very hard for him to clot.

This is a sort of a very difficult scenario as a surgeon. Anytime in an operating room, to try and take out the blood that has accumulated in the brain, at the same time more bleeding, it sounds like, accumulated at the same time. HE came out of the operating room, got another scan which showed even more bleeding and now he's going back into the operating room.

Anderson, you can sort of get the idea here. This is just not a good situation at all.

An operation like this, typically, shouldn't take more than a couple of hours, as John Vause just mentioned. It has already been several hours and if you listen to that press conference it will be several hours more. A 77-year-old guy, significant medical problems already and now many, many hours of operating on a brain that continues to bleed.

Anderson, it is dire, by I think anybody's predictions here.

COOPER: How do you stop bleeding in the brain?

GUPTA: The only thing you can really do -- see he was taking these anti-clotting medications after his previous stroke on the 18th. The only way to really stop that is to give medications that reverse the previous medications. So, you are actually giving -- your stopping the first medications, giving new medications to make his blood more likely to clot, but that whole process can take some time.

And unfortunately, in a situation where there is pressure on the brain, you just don't have that time. Which is why they took him to the operating room originally, and now getting into this situation where they are sort of chasing their tails a bit. Stopping the bleeding, hoping they don't start more bleeding, while there is blood accumulating in the brain at the same time.

COOPER: John Vause, at the hospital.

John, what is the mood there?

VAUSE: Anderson, we're actually just getting the director general of Hadassah Hospital, who will make a statement in English and clarify a few points.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A statement in English, and will not answer questions. Please.

YOSEF: Prime Minister Sharon was brought yesterday to the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem with stroke and high blood pressure. He was transferred to the imaging center to evaluate his condition, the diagnosis of massive, severe hemorrhagic stroke was done.

Then he was transferred to the operating theater, during the operation there was control of the bleeding. An hour ago, there was a secondary assessment by CT scan.

COOPER: This is the exact information that we just heard from the translated version. John Vause not realizing that we heard the translated version. So let's go back to Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

How long can a surgery like this go on for?

GUPTA: Well, you know, there are operations like this that can take several hours. Maybe 12 hours, even, but that is just impossible to predict. This is a sort of situation that is very, very difficult for any kind of surgery.

Certainly, with a brain operation, where you're just having, what it sounds like is persistent bleeding in the brain. Bleeding that is uncontrollable. They actually got him out of the operating room and found that there was still more blood that had accumulated in the interim; going back to the operating room now. Who knows, Anderson, how long it could take. But I just -- if any neurosurgeon in the world probably, dealing with a case like this would have to say it is very, very touch and go, because you just don't know how you can fully control that bleeding with some of the anti-clotting medications still in his blood stream.

COOPER: It is, as we have heard, a very serious situation. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and our John Vause will continue to monitor the situation, as will we. We're going to take a short break. 360 continues in a moment, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: As we continue to monitor the situation in Israel, for those -- all the residents here in Buckhannon, we want to thank you for the hospitality you have shown us. We will be back in New York tomorrow. CNN will continue to follow the story from here with our correspondents. We truly appreciate your hospitality and are thoughts and our prayers are with you and the miners and their families tonight. And in these difficult days and weeks ahead. Larry King is next.

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