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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 January 2006, 13:19 GMT
How did the mine message spread?
Relatives of trapped US miners react to the news of their rescue

Various accounts have started to emerge of the communications failings which led families of 11 US miners found dead to believe their loved ones were alive.

Relatives say the devastating news that only one of the West Virginia miners had survived came about three hours after they had been told 12 were alive.

The mining company said it knew within 20 minutes that initial reports of 12 survivors were incorrect, but said it was not clear at that stage how many were dead.

Inquiries are under way to find out how the wrong information was given out, as investigators await rescuers' accounts.

The tragedy raises two key questions: was the rescue team misunderstood or wrong, and why did it take so long for the families to be told?

FAMILY

Families say they were told by a company foreman that the men had been found alive.

They say they had been rejoicing for nearly three hours when they were told 11 of the 12 had not survived.

Relatives want to know why officials from the mining company had waited before they broke the news.

There is intense fury.

"I feel that we were lied to all along," said Anne Meredith, whose father died in the incident.

Nick Helms, a relative of one of the miners said: "They said it was miscommunication, come on. You come in and you tell all these people that have been waiting here you've got 12 guys coming out. There is no miscommunication."

WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR JOE MANCHIN

Governor Joe Manchin said the tragic news came more than three hours after he had been that told 12 survived the disaster.

But he said his communications team have never received confirmation that there had been survivors.

"I was with the families when all of a sudden I heard... a lot of the families start clapping and screaming, and my people, my communications people, had heard nothing and there was no confirmation."

INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP (ICG)

ICG President Ben Hatfield said initial news that the 12 men had been found alive was "bad information".

He sought to explain how the misunderstanding occurred.

"There was a miscommunication and I don't know really know whose end it was, but there was a miscommunication, that resulted in the command centre believing they were told that there [were] 12 survivors," he said.

"And apparently the intention on the part of the rescue teams was to confirm that they had 12 individuals and they were at that point checking vital signs, trying to determine who was a survivor and who wasn't."

The information was "an incomplete evaluation at the point that it went to the command centre", he said.

"[T]hrough stray cellphone conversations it appears that this miscommunication from the rescue team underground to the command centre was picked up by various people... was relayed through cellphone communications without our ever having made a release," he added.

The company stressed it had never confirmed all 12 men were alive.

"But that information spread like wildfire because it had come from the command centre, but it was a bad information," he said.

Mr Hatfield said that the company had waited until it could determine which of the miners were dead or alive to tell the families their fate.

HOW EVENTS UNFOLDED
Graphic
1: At around 0630 local time Monday workers are heading to work in the mine when an explosion occurs, reportedly in a disused section. A six-man crew head back to the surface to raise the alarm, but 13 others are trapped.
2: Mine superintendent heads in to investigate but is forced back by dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide
3: Rescue teams inch their way into mine, and late Tuesday find body of man who had been working on coal conveyor belt.
4: Transporter vehicle, abandoned by 12-man crew, is found 700ft (210m) from body.
5: Meanwhile, small holes are drilled down from surface to expected position of trapped miners. Tests show air quality is poor, although camera reveals tunnel is intact.
6: All but one of trapped miners found dead behind heavy cloth barricade, put up in attempt to keep out carbon monoxide-laden air.
Information as known at 1215 GMT Wednesday 4 January




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Relatives are given the bad news about the miners



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