Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
Ed Yeates ReportingTired of how long it takes to get trapped miners out of collapsed mine, the government has given researchers a mandate to come up with some new technology. The priority is right up front before the digging ever begins.
Trying to dig miners out from a small cavern where they're surviving - if surviving - without knowing precisely where they are -- what's happening at Crandall Canyon is a replay of other mine disasters.
Mine President Robert Murray said, "If the stoppings are not blown too badly on two sides to where the miners are, then a lot of this ventilation - not all of it - some of it will get to them and keep them alive."
Digging takes a long time. While it's faster drilling smaller vertical holes on the surface for air and water and to see or hear if they're really down there, a bigger 30 inch hole where miners could be pulled out from 1,500 feet down, one at a time, would take as long or longer than digging, as they are now, through tunnels. But researchers are looking at high tech stuff that could shave time off the front of this whole process before digging begins.
At the University of Utah, mining engineer Kim McCarter says the priority right now is to find ways to know where and what condition miners are in right from the beginning. For example, Dr. Keith Heasley and teams at West Virginia University are looking at surface sonar and geophone devices that can distinguish a faint tapping of a hammer or pick above background sounds.
Dr. McCarter said, "That would then allow suitable computer hardware to triangulate the exact position where the noise is coming from."
After the collapse, trapped miners with radio devices could transmit to any one of many fiber-optic backbone boxes distributed throughout the mine. They would allow miners to transmit their exact location and condition, despite all the earth above and around them.
If you know up front precisely where to look, you know exactly where to dig. This is where mine rescue is going.
After the Sago Mine accident, the West Virginia legislature appropriated money and told researchers to find new ways to find and get miners out of these traps.