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Tragedy At Sago Mine; Surviving Miner; Minding Your Business

Aired January 4, 2006 - 07:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Tragedy at the Sago Mine. The one miner who survived. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with a look at his condition. Randal McCloy, 27 years old. Why did he make it? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in a moment.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The federal government is out with a statement this morning. The Department of Labor, the specific group responsible for mine safety, the mine and health safety administration. I'm going to read from a statement which comes from the under secretary right now.

An appointment of an investigative team that will be involved in this. They will investigate all aspects of the accident and response, including compliance with all federal health and safety standards and how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners' conditions. That last line a direct reference to that incredible three-hour period which went from euphoria to despair here in Upshur County, West Virginia, as first the news came forward that 12 miners had survived. And then, within a three-hour period, just the opposite being the final word.

Joining us now is the governor of the state of West Virginia, Joe Manchin, who's been up all night walking through this horrific ordeal.

Governor Manchin, when the investigators get around to talking to you about how communication was filtered out and disseminated, what are you going to tell them?

GOVERNOR JOE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGINIA: Well, I'm looking for the same answers they're looking for. Let me say this, Miles, that I was with the family and all the family members at the church when this information came down. I assumed through somebody's cell phone because I was sitting there and my communication people were with me and no one had told me a thing and we heard all this euphoric and this ecstatic and applause and on a on and on. And we said, what happened? We didn't know. We get up and we walk into the other room and they said they found them, they found them. And I said, oh my goodness. I said, do we have any confirmation? And my people said, we have -- no one's called us, you know, from command center or told us a thing.

So with that I said, we better go up and find out what's going on. So we get into the car and drive up and we get there and they're all ecstatic. So whatever had heard or misinterpreted or however it had transpired, it was just wrong and just unbelievable. But -- and then later, hearing that there might have been a change and there was not accurate and then everyone saying, well what is accurate? Is there one, two, three, five? What is it? And I understood they went through all of this. And with the command center speaking to the underground rescue operators, trying to get proper information and accurate information.

And I'm understanding the time just went far too long and it's just -- you know, to put blame, Miles, is wrong. Just everyone's worked and they worked so hard for two days and they tried to do everything in their power. They risked their lives. It's a very, very difficult, tough situation. We knew we had odds that were stacked against us. I kept saying, I believe in miracles, I'm praying for a miracle. We received one miracle. I was wanting 13 miracles.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes. And, you know, this is not to minimize the bravery and courage of those people who went underground.


MILES O'BRIEN: And clearly communication, when you're talking about people 260 feet below the surface, is a difficult thing. What it goes back to, I think, is, first of all, the company saying, we never made an official announcement. As best as you can tell, did it just come from a cell phone call from one person inside the command center to one person inside the church and spread like wildfire or was there something more formal about it?

MANCHIN: No, no. I think what you probably described it best that I can understand, to the best that I've heard. Again, I was in the church. I have no idea. I was not called on our communication system. I wasn't told a thing.

I've just been staying with the family and speaking to them, answering their questions and if there's anything they wanted to know or needed to know, we wanted to find out because I'd been through this in my own personal life in '68 with my uncle and my friends who we lost their lives -- they lost their lives in the '68 Farmington explosion, knowing how horrific this is and the toll it takes on a family. And I wanted to make sure these families had accurate information as quickly as we did before the news media and that's what the -- that's what was transferring for two days. And then for this to happen and just people, they've worked so hard, they tried so hard, they've risked their lives and we're just so sorry. It's just a gut- wrenching thing that I was hoping I'd never go through again in my life.

MILES O'BRIEN: As you look back on it, do you have any regrets about at least participating in that euphoria? You know, at that point, I guess you can only take at face value what you heard.

MANCHIN: Well, I walked in there and, you know, not knowing anything. I kept thinking, I kept asking our people, how could this information and we not know about it? We've been called about something all along. And then you just -- I mean, the ecstatic and the euphoria and just pulled up and everybody's running and the bells are ringing.

And I'm thinking, my goodness, you know, our prayers were answered, we have 12 miracles. And, you know, yes, sir, I believe in miracles. I think the whole world knows I believe in miracles. And we did have one miracle. We thought we had 12 miracles. It was just unbelievable.

And then that's why I wanted to go up to the command center to find out exactly what had happened and they, at that time, were ecstatic also. So I don't know what, you know, to say. I just -- we will have a full investigation and our intentions and our goal is not to have one injury, lose one life in West Virginia. These are the bravest people. Their families, the families that support them, coal miners, they basically work so hard for their families. They work hard and proud of the state of West Virginia. They work hard and they're so proud of the United States of America because the coal was really the energy that moves this state, this country and keeps this country strong. And these are proud people, good people.

MILES O'BRIEN: Governor, one final thought here. Where are the bodies now? Could you tell us about the recovery efforts?

MANCHIN: As I know, they've been working on the recovery and they're still working with the breathing apparatus because the high carbon monoxide levels, Miles. And that's proceeding that might have been -- it might have been completed as we're speaking. I know they were preceding a cautiously, making sure all safety precautions were taken for the rescue operators and that will be done this morning, I'm told.

MILES O'BRIEN: Governor Joe Manchin, state of West Virginia, thanks for your time.

MANCHIN: Thank you.

MILES O'BRIEN: We wish you the best as you try to recover from this.

Among the people who were killed in that mine, was a miner, Terry Helms. An experienced miner. Thirty-four years of experience. A man they called the fire boss, meaning he had enough expertise to be the first to go into a mine to ensure that it was safe for passage for crews that would follow him.

His family believes that it was Terry Helms who was killed at the outset in that initial explosion because, by the very nature of his work as the fire boss, he would have been separated from the remaining 12 miners. A good friend of his is joining us now. His name is Terry Goff. And Terry has ridden this roller coaster all night long.

I know you're having a tough time, Terry. Thank you for doing this.


MILES O'BRIEN: What's the emotion this morning? Is there a lot of anger or is it just a sense of sadness over the loss?

GOFF: We prepared ourself earlier when we found out that the first body they found would be in a location where Terry was to get off. So we prepared ourselves. And the family was tore up over it. And then we got this news that 12 was alive and people was up there rejoicing and then, you know, then to get this information. At no time did any of the mine officials ever come down and tell us that Terry was dead and he was the first -- it was believed that he's the first body to be found because of the location where he was at.

MILES O'BRIEN: So when you say you think that was Terry, that was just your best guess based on how you know they operate underground. You never got any sort of confirmation from anybody on that?

GOFF: At no time did we get a confirmation.

MILES O'BRIEN: So to this moment, you can't be certain if he was among the 12 who barricaded or if he was at that vehicle which would move the men in?

GOFF: That's true, but based on where he usually works, he gets off and stuff. They . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: These accidents are a part of mining, unfortunately. It's very dangerous work. It must be very difficult for the community to come back from something like this because it affects literally everybody here, doesn't it?

GOFF: Yes, it does. Yes, it does.

MILES O'BRIEN: What's going to be next for the community? What happens after something as devastating as this? We're talking about a community here of a little more than 400. The loss of 12 is a big loss.

GOFF: Well, it doesn't just affect 12. If they decide to shut this mine down, then it's going to affect 140 jobs of a lot more people.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes. Terry Goff, a good friend of Terry Helms. Thank you very much and we wish you well as you come back from this ordeal here. Of course, nobody has said one word about the mine shutting down. We don't know that to be a case. So let's make sure that's real clear at this point. No one has said that. All right, Terry Goff, thank you very much.

Let's get some other headlines in now this morning. Kelly Wallace in New York with that.

Good morning, Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, Miles.

And we are beginning with another deadly bombing in Iraq to tell you about. Officials confirming the attack to CNN just within the past hour. It happened northeast of Baquba. The apparent target, a funeral procession. At least 36 people were killed. Dozens of others are wounded.

The war on terror will be the focus of remarks coming from President Bush later this morning. First, though, he is set to get a briefing from top military commanders at the Pentagon in about two hours. The meeting comes one day after the president called on lawmakers to permanently extend The Patriot Act, billed as anti-terror legislation. Parts of that legislation set to expire next month.

A probe into what could be one of the biggest corruption scandals on Capitol Hill in decades moves into its next phase. Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff is expected in a Miami courtroom today after pleading guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges in Washington on Tuesday. As part of the plea deal, Abramoff has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the investigation which could involve some top lawmakers and congressional aides.

And new threats of grass fires throughout Texas and other parts of the Southwest. Crews working overnight to fight dozens of blazes. They say most of the flair-ups appear to be now under control. In the past week, more than 500,000 acres have been scorched in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. At least five deaths are blamed on the fires.

So what's it going to look like for the forecast today? Bonnie Schneider at the CNN Center with the latest.

Good morning again, Bonnie.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, we've got the very latest on the only miner to survive the tragedy at the Sago Mine. Twenty- seven-year-old Randal McCloy, Jr. How was he able to make it out alive when all the other 12 died? Dr. Sanjay Gupta's going to join us just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: As we now know, there is one survivor in this tragedy, 27-year-old Randal McCloy, a father of two young children. We spoke to his wife yesterday who clutched a teddy bear while she told us that her husband was very afraid of working in the mines. He was worried about his safety.

West Virginia University Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, is going to update us on his condition. That's where he's now been transported. And as soon as we get that update, we're going to bring that to you live.

First, though, let's check in with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Sanjay, we know a little bit about the condition of Randal McCloy right now. We heard earlier from the first hospital where he was admitted that he didn't seem to have any burns or any broken bones that they could see. He was unconscious and on a ventilator. What does that information tell you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Soledad, I've been sort of taking notes on his condition all night long. He was brought in moaning and moving, though, as well. Those are both good signs in terms of actually being able to make noise, verbalize a little bit maybe, also moving his extremities is a good sign as well. He was not able to protect his airway or breathe well enough on his own, so he did need a breathing tube and the breathing machine subsequently.

It sounds like he's had a significant -- at least a somewhat significant either injury to his brain or some sort of -- something happened to his brain either from carbon monoxide or from the explosion itself, from the explosion. Unclear right now. Really there was no CAT scan of his brain done at the smaller hospital. It may have been done now at the bigger hospital where he's been transferred. We should hear about that in just a few minutes.

It's hard to say, Soledad. A couple things sort of struck me. One is that he didn't have, according to the doctor that took care of him at St. Joseph's Hospital, he did not have any high levels of carbon monoxide in his blood. Significant because we've been hearing all evening yesterday and all through the night how high the carbon monoxide levels were. That didn't seem to be a cause of his semiconscious state.

I guess we're going to be getting more information now. He was listed as in critical, but stable condition. You can be stable and still be very sick. So we'll just have to wait and hear, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We heard from his father-in-law not long ago who said that, in fact, he was scheduled or that he had heard that he was scheduled to have a brain scan at the larger trauma center. No surprise, really, that they transported him, in your mind, is there, Sanjay, that they transported him to the trauma center away from a smaller, local hospital?

GUPTA: Not at all, Soledad. You had the resources of an intensive care unit. You also have the resources of a neurosurgeon should he have some sort of brain injury, again, from the explosion. Perhaps he had some trauma to his brain. You need a neurosurgeon to be able to take care of that. He'd absolutely need that at a larger hospital, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right, Sanjay, thanks for the update. Of course, we're all waiting to hear the doctor's prognosis. And again, when we get word from West Virginia University Hospital, we're expecting it maybe within the next hour or so, we're going to bring that to you live.

Before the tragic news that the Sago Mine broke, emergency crews were preparing for 12 survivors. What went through their minds when suddenly the story, as it did for all of us, took a turn for the very worst? We're going to take a closer look at that just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: More on the story out of the Sago Mine in just a few moments. First, though, some business news.

Could be that previous testimony from a former Enron chief is going to come back to haunt him. Andy Serwer's "Minding Your Business."

Who are we talking about?

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're talking about Jeff Skilling, Soledad. And it's January and that means the Enron trial is going to begin -- set to begin on January 30th in Houston.

New developments this morning, though, to tell you about. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that federal prosecutors are accusing Jeff Skilling, he the former CEO of that company, of deceiving the Securities and Exchange Commission in sworn testimony. In short, it looks like Jeff Skilling tried to play, perhaps, the 911 card.

Here's how it happened. Jeff Skilling said that on September 17, 2001, he sold $15 million of Enron stock. That's fine. He said he did so because he was concerned about the impact of 9/11 on Enron and the overall economy. Enron went into bankruptcy in December of 2001.

What he didn't tell prosecutors, though, is that he tried to sell Enron stock, a large slug of it, before 9/11, a sin of omission, as you would say, Soledad, perhaps. And I think this is relevant because that would suggest, of course, that there were other reasons for selling the stock than 9/11. He was concerned about the forges (ph) of the company.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Wouldn't they know? I mean, shouldn't they be able to track that pretty clearly and easily?

SERWER: Well, what happened is that he wasn't able to sell the stock, though. He tried to sell it through his brokerage account and the brokerage firm wouldn't let him sell because they thought he was still an officer of the company and there are certain rules you had to follow. He actually stepped down in August of 2001. So he didn't tell them about that. Prosecutors have now found out and it looks kind of bad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, we'll watch and wait because it's January. As you said, the trial gets underway.

SERWER: January, and it's time for the Enron trial.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

All right, thanks, Andy.

SERWER: Thank you. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We have extended version of AMERICAN MORNING for you this morning. We're coming to you both from Sago, West Virginia, which is where Miles is this morning, and New York City.

Let's get right back to Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: Soledad, we're going to take a break. And when we return, we're going to hopefully, within the next few minutes, hear from the hospital where the sole survivor of this mine accident is being treated right now. We'll get a status report on his condition and ask the doctors how he could of possibly survived for all those many hours. That's coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.



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