On July 24, 2002, eighteen coal miners working second shift in Somerset County, PA accidentally dug into the abandoned mine referred to as Saxman Coal, or Harrison #2 (it was purchased by Saxman Coal and Coke Company in 1925). Figuring that this second mine was 300 feet farther away than it was, the accident caused about 50 million gallons of water to flood the mine, causing a dangerous situation for the miners.
At approximately 9 p.m. that day, the eighteen miners, who worked for Black Wolf Coal Company’s Quecreek Mine, were 240 feet underground when the flooded mine was breached.
The miners were split up by section – nine of the miners in the 1-Left panel area used the mine’s phone system to notify the other group of nine in the 2-Left panel to evacuate immediately. The 2-Left miners were out and safe by 9:45, and made sure to alert 911. As water rapidly kept flooding the mine, families were called. Calls were also made between 11:30 PM and 12 AM to find a drill that could bore a hole big enough to raise the men from the mine.
Besides pumping the water out, the main focus in the rescue attempt was making sure that the miners had enough air. Bob Long, an engineer technician for Civil Mining Environmental Engineering, helped create a borehore around 2 A.M. that allowed air to be pumped into the mineshaft. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an effective long term solution. Governor Mark Schweiker visited the site that night and said at a news briefing later that they “are in a very fragile state.” He also said that anything less than the successful rescue of the nine men would be less than acceptable.
On Thursday, drilling resumed. There was some fear that if they broke into the chamber too quickly, the water could rush upwards and drown the miners. There was also a fear that the miners would be afflicted with decompression sickness due to their breathing air, which was at a higher pressure than the surface pressure. As time went on, the rescue team was able to communicate with the miners through a two-way communication device that was lowered into the 6-inch air pipe. The miners told the rescuers that while the foreman, Randy Fogle, was experiencing some chest pains, they were all alive.
On July 28th, Fogle was the first rescued miner, followed by the additional men in order by weight. Six miners were taken to Memorial Hospital, where two were in fair condition and four were in good condition.
After the rescue, it was figured that the primary cause of the water inundation was the use of an undated and uncertified mine map of the Harrison No. 2 mine that did not show the complete and final mine workings. After a few investigations, the Governor took a look at the actions of the Black Wolf Coal Company, who had approximately 25 violations prior to the incident.
On August 5th, President George Bush met with the miners and addressed the crowd with a speech about the successful rescue. “Today we’re here to celebrate life, the value of life, and as importantly, the spirit of America,” he said. “What took place here in Pennsylvania really represents the best of our country, what I call the spirit of America, the great strength of our nation.”
Do you remember hearing about this legendary rescue?