6 Trapped After Utah Coal Mine Collapse

The collapse may have triggered what appeared to be a 3.9 magnitude quake.

January 8, 2009, 1:09 AM

Aug. 6, 2007 — -- Rescue teams are racing to reach six miners who are trapped 1,500 feet underground after a coal mine collapse early Monday morning in central Utah.

The force of the collapse was so powerful that it triggered seismic activity near the site of the mine that initially appeared to be a magnitude 3.9 earthquake, according to researchers at the University of Utah who oversee seismography readings for the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Crandall Canyon Mine reported a "cave-in" at 5:50 a.m. EDT, according to the Emery County Sheriff's office.

"Mine rescue and rescue workers are on scene trying to locate the six miners that are unaccounted for," according to the sheriff's office statement.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration, which was notified of a "seismic or ground failure" that had been registered near the mine at 5:40 a.m. EDT, is coordinating the rescue with local mine officials, spokesman Dirk Fillpot told ABC News.

A search team had already come within 1,700 feet of the trapped miners, who are 4 miles from the mine's entrance where the six unidentified miners are believed to be trapped. Despite the progress, rescuers had not made contact with them earlier this morning

"There has been no communication," Fillpot said, adding that family liaisons are also on their way to the site to communicate with the families of the miners.

The mine is operated by Genwal Resources Inc. in Huntington, Utah, according to the federal government's data retrieval system. The mine controller is listed as Robert E. Murray, president and CEO of Murray Energy Corp. in Pepper Pike, Ohio.

At an afternoon press conference, Murray described himself as a director of Utah America Energy, which owns Genwal Resources and is a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp.

If the trapped miners survive the initial cave-in, they have enough water and oxygen to survive up to 48 hours, Murray said at the scene. But Murray emphasized that it's unclear whether the miners are dead or alive. Rescue teams are using four different methods, including horizontal drilling, to try to reach the trapped miners from different directions. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was also at the scene of the collapse to help console the families of the missing miners.

Genwal Resources, which has 300 employees, reported $45 million in sales last year, according to the business-tracking service Hoovers.

What originally was thought to be a magnitude 3.9 earthquake struck at 4:48 a.m. EDT, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The quake was recorded by a USGS seismograph at a University of Utah measurement station.

The epicenter of the Monday-morning earthquake was in the Huntington Canyon area, about 100 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.

The time sequence initially seemed to indicate that the earthquake preceded the collapse, but Mary Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management, told the Salt Lake Tribune that authorities were still unsure whether the earthquake caused the collapse or the other way around. Mine collapses, she said, sometimes trigger earthquakes.

"They don't know if it was the chicken or the egg," she said.

Walter Arabasz, the head of the University of Utah's Seismograph Stations, said that wavelengths in the reading showed a connection between the earthquake and the collapse -- suggesting the pattern is "consistent with the idea that the mine collapse caused the earthquake."

The 13 coal mines in Utah produced more than 24,000 short tons of coal in 2005, according to the federal government's Energy Information Association. There are a total of 19 coal mines in the state, which employ more than 1,800 employees.

An explosion in the Sago Mine in West Virginia in January 2006 trapped 13 miners for nearly two days. Ultimately, 12 of the 13 miners died, making the explosion the worst American mining disaster since a 2001 Alabama accident killed 13 people.

Ten people have died in coal mine accidents in the United States so far this year. None of those fatalities occurred in the state of Utah.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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