August 16, 2007
Rescuers searching for six trapped coal miners got two pieces of hopeful news, images of an intact chamber with potentially breathable air and the sound of mysterious vibrations in the mountain.
Officials were studying the results of air quality samples taken from a third borehole, and were expected to release their findings Thursday, 10 days after the cave-in.
Video images from the same shaft showed an undamaged section complete with a ventilation curtain that divides intake air from exhaust air. Behind the curtain, in theory, the men might have found refuge and breathable air.
Company officials planned to begin drilling a fourth hole Thursday.
The hole had been planned for more than a day, but its location was changed after the noise was detected Wednesday by devices monitoring vibrations in the mountain, raising some hope the men might be found alive.
"If the men went in there, they could be alive," said mine co-owner Bob Murray. "There was no damage at all. The roof is intact; no ribs have outburst. The floors are in place, it looked just as it did when we mined it."
The sounds detected could be a rock breaking underground or even
an animal, said Mine Health and Safety Administration chief Richard Stickler.
"We saw some indication of noise for a period of about five minutes that we had not seen before," Stickler said. The source of the noise wasn't known.
Plans for the location of a fourth borehole had changed because of the "unusual" noise readings.
As crews slowly dig a path to the men's presumed location at the Crandall Canyon Mine, the choice of where to drill the narrow holes sunk deep into the mountain amount to little more than educated guesses.
The thunderous collapse blew out the walls of mine shafts, filling them with rubble. If the men were not crushed by rock, their bodies could have been crushed by the immense air pressure generated by the collapse, mining executives and federal regulators have said.
And if they survived that, they could have died from lack of oxygen, even though fresh air is now being pumped down one of the drill holes.