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Sunday, 28 July, 2002, 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK
US miners' rescue relief
Rescuers celebrate miners' release
There were scenes of jubilation
People involved in the rescue of nine miners from a flooded coal mine in Pennsylvania have spoken of their relief and their fears that the men might not be brought up safe and sound.

After hours of drilling and agonizing setbacks, the miners emerged early on Sunday to scenes of jubilation from rescuers and crowds gathered nearby.

"I didn't think I was going to see my wife and kids again," Harry Mayhugh told reporters, shortly after being rescued from the Que Creek Mine in western Pennsylvania.


Their condition is remarkable given the situation they were in

Dr Russell Dumire
"It was a miracle. Between God and my wife and the kids, that's the only things that got me through."

Click here to see where the miners were trapped

They were in surprisingly good condition after their three-day ordeal, suffering minor hypothermia but with no evidence of decompression sickness.

"Their condition is remarkable given the situation they were in," said Dr Russell Dumire of Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, where six of the men were taken.

Mutual support

The miners spent 77 hours immersed in about a metre of water, struggling to keep warm.

Miner Harry Mayhugh with his wife
Miner Harry Mayhugh with his wife
Mr Mayhugh described how they huddled together - "anything to produce body heat", he said.

They also took turns encouraging each other.

"That's the only way it could have been," he said. "There were high points and low points every day".

But his ordeal is not over yet. "Emotionally... it's going to take time to heal," he admitted.

At the hospital, the miners' first priority was food. "They pretty much devoured anything that was put in front of them," said Dr Dumire.


What took you guys so long?

Rescued miner
Several even asked for beer, but doctors would not allow it because of the danger of dehydration.

Two of the miners, including Mr Mayhugh, have already been released from hospital.

Of those remaining, two reported chest pain and one was being treated for decompression problems, but none are thought to be in a serious condition.

Tortuous wait

Rescue workers, who had drilled for three days to get to the men, finally penetrated the chamber where the miners were trapped at 2220 EDT on Saturday (0220 GMT Sunday).

A telephone wire was dropped through a small air pipe to listen for sounds, then a rescue worker heard the voices of the men who told him all nine were safe and well.

The last miner with a thumbs-up sign
The last miner to be rescued gave a thumbs-up sign to the waiting crowd
"What took you guys so long?" one miner asked when he was winched to the surface.

Rescue crews were ecstatic after days of desperation.

"It's just unbelievable," Lou Lepley said. "I have no words to describe it."

The rescuers had spent the past three days drilling more than 235 feet (70 metres) below ground to reach the men, who became trapped after accidentally breaching the wall of a disused mine, sending water gushing into the shaft where they were working.

Emergency teams dug two escape shafts down towards where the men were trapped.

They began digging a back-up shaft after a huge drill bit jammed in the first shaft, but work on the second shaft was also beset by mechanical problems.

The drill bit was eventually dislodged, but it delayed the rescue operation by many hours.

No communication of any kind had been received from the men since Thursday, and many had begun to fear the worst.



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The BBC's Jane Standley
"240 feet under ground conditions were harsh"
See also:

28 Jul 02 | Americas
28 Jul 02 | Americas
28 Jul 02 | Americas
26 Jul 02 | Americas
26 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Jul 02 | Europe
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