Tragic 'Misunderstanding' in West Virginia Mine Accident

A 'Miscommunication'

Somehow, there was an awful miscommunication: Rescuers had not confirmed that 12 were alive, but that 12 were found and that they were being checked for vital signs.

"They didn't have any certainties, and the time has elapsed because they were trying to get more information before giving information that was wrong or erroneous," said Manchin, about why the families were not given accurate information right after the mistake was made.

The rescue effort proved to be quite complex and layered. Word had to travel between several rescue teams and several levels of company administration before finally making it to the worried families.

In the end, the miners who perished -- most of them middle-aged -- likely were simply exposed to carbon monoxide for too long.

As they were trained to do, the miners had constructed a barrier to block deadly carbon monoxide gas. The bodies were recovered near the air hole drilled early on Tuesday in an attempt to reach them.

Each miner carried a breathing apparatus that was designed to supply oxygen in the event of a disaster.

"Despite the overwhelming grief the community feels," Manchin said, "let's remember we do have one miracle and we're thankful for that."

Furious Family Members

Family members are demanding answers.

"I call this injustice," said Ann Meredith, a relative of a miner. "I will tell you right here now, I am going to sue."

The sadness turned to rage with some of the community members turning on officials. There were reports of fistfights. A SWAT team and about 12 state police officers waited nearby. A Red Cross volunteer, Tamila Swiger, said some people were experiencing nervous breakdowns and panic attacks.

"Tell us our families are coming out alive and then one of them comes out and the rest of them dead," said Daniele Bennett, whose father was killed in the mine. "That's not even right."

"I mean the whole church rejoiced -- that was when they had 11 survivors," said Green, the lone survivor's father-in-law. "When they came back in and they announced my son-in-law, I was still devastated. My heart -- my whole family's heart -- goes out to them."

Manchin, who lost friends and his uncle in a 1968 West Virginia mining accident, said that the miscommunication between rescuers and state and company officials was terrible, but not anyone's fault.

"They knew the odds that were against us -- and with that to have the ending as it did, with this high euphoria," he said. "To put blame on anyone would be wrong, it truly would be."

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