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Three Rescue Workers Killed, Six Injured at Utah Mine

Three Rescue Workers Killed, Six Injured at Utah Mine

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Click the PLAY button on the left to watch KSL's coverage(AP/KSL) -- A disastrous cave-in Thursday night killed three rescue workers and injured at least six others who were trying to tunnel through rubble to reach trapped miners, authorities said. Mining officials were considering whether to suspend the rescue effort.

It was a shocking setback on the 11th day of the effort to find six miners who have been confined at least 1,500 feet below ground at the Crandall Canyon mine. It's unknown if the six are alive or dead.

Six of the injured were taken to Castleview Hospital in Price. One died there, one was airlifted to a Salt Lake City hospital, one was released and three were being treated, said Jeff Manley, the hospital's chief executive.

The second dead worker passed away at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, said hospital spokeswoman Janet Frank. Another worker there was in critical condition with head trauma but was alert, she said.

The third death was confirmed by Rich Kulczewski, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor, but additional details were not immediately available.

No official cause of death has been given for any of the deaths.

Three Rescue Workers Killed, Six Injured at Utah Mine

Earlier, CEO of Castleview Hospital, Jeff Manley, says the hospital is well-prepared to receive trauma injuries, which might include broken bones and internal injuries. He says patients with more serious head injuries would be taken to Salt Lake area hospitals.

Tammy Kikuchi, with the State Department of Natural Resources, said the mine has been evacuated, and all miners have been accounted for.

"It is believed that the accident was caused by a bump. ... We are in the process of doing a head count to ensure that everyone is accounted for," said Dirk Fillpot, spokesman for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

A bump commonly refers to pressure inside the mine that shoots coal from the walls with great force.

A "final count" determined that nine workers were injured, he said. The agency had earlier said at least 10 were injured.

The bump occurred at about 6:35 p.m.

Family members of miners, many in tears, gathered at the mine's front entrance looking for news.

Three Rescue Workers Killed, Six Injured at Utah Mine

A Crandall Canyon Mine employee, Donnie Leonard, said he was outside the mine when he heard a manager "yelling about a cave-in." He describes a situation of pandemonium immediately after the "bump" occurred.

It was not immediately clear where the injured people were working or what they were doing when they were hurt. Crews have been drilling holes from the top of the mountain to try to find the six missing miners while others were tunneling through a debris-filled entry to the mine.

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has been out of state but is on his way back to the scene tonight.

Thursday's bump at 6:39 p.m. showed up as a magnitude 1.6 seismic event at University of Utah seismograph stations in Salt Lake City, said university spokesman Lee Siegel.

Underground, the miners had advanced to only 826 feet in nine days. They still have 1,200 feet to go to reach the area where they believe the trapped men had been working.

The digging had already been set back Wednesday night when a coal excavating machine was half buried by rubble from seismic shaking. Another mountain bump interrupted work briefly Thursday morning.

"The seismic activity underground has just been relentless. The mountain is still alive, the mountain is still moving and we cannot endanger the rescue workers as we drive toward these trapped miners," Bob Murray, chief of Murray Energy Corp., the co-owner and operator of the Crandall Canyon Mine, said earlier Thursday.

Three Rescue Workers Killed, Six Injured at Utah Mine

Murray has become more reticent to predict when the excavation would be complete. At the current rate, it figures to take several more days.

On top of the mountain, rescuers were drilling a fourth hole, aiming for a spot where they had detected mysterious vibrations in the mountain.

Officials said Thursday that the latest of three holes previously drilled reached an intact chamber with potentially breathable air.

Video images were obscured by water running down that bore hole, but officials said they could see beyond it to an undamaged chamber in the rear of the mine. It yielded no sign the miners had been there.

Murray said it would take at least two days for the latest drill to reach its target in an area where a seismic listening device detected a "noise" or vibration in 1.5-second increments and lasting for five minutes.

Officials say it's impossible to know what caused the vibrations and on Thursday clarified the limits of the technology.

The device, called a geophone, can pinpoint the direction of the source of the disturbance, but it can't tell whether it came from within the mine, the layers of rock above the mine or from the mountain's surface, said Richard Stickler, chief of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The "noise," a term he used a day before, wasn't anything officials could hear, Stickler said. "Really, it's not sounds but vibrations."

Together with the discovery of an intact chamber and breathable oxygen levels, the baffling vibrations offered only a glimmer of hope for rescuing the miners, but Murray seized on the developments Thursday.

"The air is there, the water is there -- everything is there to sustain them indefinitely until we get to them," he said.

Officials said results of air quality samples taken from the intact chamber, accessed by the third deep borehole, showed oxygen levels of roughly 15 to 16 percent.

Normal oxygen levels are 21 percent, and readings in other parts of the mine taken since the Aug. 6 collapse have registered levels as low as 7 percent.

At 15 percent oxygen, a person would experience effects such as elevated heart and breathing rates, Stickler said.

Video images from the same shaft showed an undamaged section complete with a ventilation curtain that divides intake air from exhaust air. Behind the curtain, in theory, the men might have found refuge and breathable air when the mine collapsed 10 days ago.

Nothing had been detected or heard since the five-minute period Wednesday, Stickler said Thursday.

A candlelight vigil had been planned for tonight, before this latest accident happened.

Associated Press writers Chris Kahn and Alicia A. Caldwell in Huntington, Ed White in Salt Lake City, and Jennifer Talhelm in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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