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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A coalition of media organizations, including The Associated Press, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Monday seeking to halt a federal investigation into the Crandall Canyon mine disaster until a judge can decide whether the proceedings should be public.
The U.S. Labor Department has refused to allow the public to attend interviews during the government's investigation of the Aug. 6 mine collapse in central Utah. Six miners are presumed dead after the cave-in the Crandall Canyon mine, although their bodies have not been recovered. Ten days later, three people, including a mine inspector, trying to tunnel toward the miners were killed in a second collapse.
The Salt Lake Tribune had requested that investigative hearings by the Mine Safety and Health Administration be open to the public, but its request was denied. The AP and other media outlets joined in the request for a temporary restraining order to prohibit further investigative work until hearings and transcripts are made public.
"Reporters do not sit in crime labs or prosecutors' offices, so why would the attorneys for The Salt Lake Tribune think this case is any different as an ongoing investigation?" said David Jones, a Labor Department spokesman, last week.
The mining accident came a year after several high-profile coal mine disasters spurred a flurry of new mine-safety laws. It has led some to question the performance of the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Meanwhile, some family members of the nine people killed at Crandall Canyon were traveling to Washington, D.C., for two days of congressional hearings starting Tuesday. Some planned to testify Wednesday.
"It will be a bittersweet moment," said Kristin Kimber, the ex-wife of Brandon Kimber, a miner who died in the rescue attempt. "To ensure this won't ever happen again is the purpose of us going," she said.
In the Tribune's initial request, it pointed to a court ruling following the 1984 Wilberg mine disaster, in which a federal judge said that investigation should be open to the public. An appeals court vacated the ruling but transcripts were released.
Joining The Associated Press and The Salt Lake Tribune in the lawsuit are CNN, the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City and the Utah Media Coalition, an association of Utah newspapers, television stations and professional journalism organizations.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)