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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 January 2006, 16:45 GMT
Fury over US mine 'rescue' fiasco
Firefighter at mine

Families of 11 US miners found dead have expressed anger and disbelief at communications failings which led them to believe their loved ones were alive.

Relatives were celebrating a "miracle" before they were told only one of the 12 West Virginia miners had survived. A 13th miner was found dead earlier.

"There was no apology. There was no nothing," said Nick Helms, son of dead miner Terry Helms.

The survivor, Randal McCloy Junior, 27, is still critically ill in hospital.

But doctors treating him say he is showing signs of brain functioning. "We hope that we will try to awaken him later today or tomorrow," Dr Larry Roberts of Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown said.

Portion of infographic illustrating Sago mine blast and rescue attempts

US President George W Bush said the nation was mourning the lost miners.

"We send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to the loves ones whose hearts are broken," Mr Bush said.

There were scenes of jubilation when families, gathered inside a local church near the Sago Mine, were told of their menfolk's survival.

Several US newspapers went to press with headlines such as "Miracle in the Mine" and "Alive!".

'Answers needed'

Three hours later, joy gave way to grief and anger when mine officials broke the terrible news. A witness said one relative lunged for an official and had to be wrestled to the ground.

The families lost a loved one not just once, but twice
Elaine Willis, Charleston, West Virginia, USA

State troopers and an armed Swat team were posted alongside the road by the church in the small town of Tallmansville near Buckhannon, in case relatives' anger spilled over into violence.

"Everybody is stunned," said Sam Lands, the brother-in-law of miner Martin Bennet.

"I thought I was going to pass out. I couldn't believe it. We've been lied to all along. We need answers."

Earlier, rescuers had found the body of a 13th miner left in a mine cart some 3,000m (9,842ft) inside the mine, separate to the other work party.

'Bad information'

The company, International Coal Group (ICG), said it knew within 20 minutes that initial reports all the men had survived were incorrect, but said it was not clear at that stage how many were dead.

Ben Hatfield, president of ICG, said: "We are incredibly saddened by the horrific loss."

New York Post
The reversal left relatives who had gathered at the mine here stunned and furious
New York Times

Under tough questioning at a press conference, he sought to explain how the misunderstanding occurred.

Mr Hatfield said: "What happened is that through stray cellphone conversations it appears that this miscommunication from the rescue team underground to the command centre was picked up by various people.

"That information spread like wildfire because it had come from the command centre but it was a bad information."

He said he believed the men had survived the explosion and gone to what they thought was a safe area. They are then thought to have been poisoned by toxic fumes.

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, who had earlier hailed the rescue as a miracle, apologised for the mistaken information.

"I can't tell you of anything more heartwrenching that I have gone through in my life," he said. The governor's own uncle had been killed in a mine disaster in the state in 1968.

The cause of Monday's blast is not yet known.

The US Mine Safety and Health Administration is to hold an investigation into the tragedy.

Acting Assistant Secretary David Dye said it would include "how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners' conditions".

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