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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 January 2006, 02:40 GMT
US mining firm expresses regret
Relatives of trapped US miners react to the news of their rescue

The owners of a US mine in which 12 miners died say they "sincerely regret" families were allowed to believe for three hours 11 were still alive.

Ben Hatfield, of the International Coal Group (ICG) said they fully accepted the criticism over the manner in which they handled the matter.

He said initial messages from rescuers were misheard by the command centre and relayed to families by workers there.

Only one miner, the youngest, survived. A 13th miner was found dead earlier.

Doctors treating Randal McCloy Junior, 27, say he is showing signs of brain functioning and has squeezed his wife's hand.

He and his 12 colleagues became trapped 80m (260ft) below ground at the Sago Mine in central West Virginia after an explosion early on Monday.

Grieving families, who held a vigil at the mine on Wednesday evening, are now threatening legal action and vowing to get the mine shut down, says the BBC's Daniela Relph in West Virginia.

The Sago Mine was cited for more than 40 alleged violations of federal mine health and safety rules during an 11-week review that ended in December, according to reports.

'Desperate for good news'

Families gathered at the nearby church in the small town of Tallmansville waiting for news as the rescue effort got under way.

One miner was found dead, but the firm's mine command centre initially thought it had received word that the remaining 12 were discovered alive.

IN GRAPHICS
Portion of infographic illustrating Sago mine blast and rescue attempts

This news was passed on to the families by employees, already exhausted by the rescue effort, said Mr Hatfield, president of the company.

"There was desperation for good information, they wanted to share it, I don't think anyone had a clue how much damage was about to be created. And we truly regret that," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

There were scenes of jubilation at the church when families were told of their menfolk's survival at just before midnight on Tuesday.

The church bells rang out and newspapers went to press with front page headlines such as "Miracle in the Mine" and "Alive!".

Federal investigation

But nearly three hours later, joy gave way to grief and anger when mine officials broke the terrible news that only one of the 12 miners had survived.

One relative reportedly lunged for an official and had to be wrestled to the ground. State troopers and an armed Swat team were posted alongside the road outside the church for fear relatives' anger would spill over into violence.

Mr Hatfield admitted the company was told within 45 minutes of the first report that only one person had survived, but decided to delay any announcement until they were certain of the facts.

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

"We fully recognise the criticism that the company has received about the manner in which the news was communicated to the families," he told reporters.

"Rightly or wrongly we believed it was important to make factual statements to the families and we believed that word had been sent to the church to indicate that additional reports may not be correct.

"We made what we believed to be the best decisions based on the information available while working under extreme stress and physical exhaustion.

"We sincerely regret the manner in which events unfolded this morning," he added.

All the bodies have now been removed from the mine.

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




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