Looking back at the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse 10 years later

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HUNTINGTON, Emery County — Sunday marks the 10-year anniversary of the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse, which led to a two-week saga as rescuers tried to save the lives of six miners who were trapped inside the mine.

In the end, Kerry Allred, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Don Erickson, Manuel Sanchez and Brandon Phillips all perished along with emergency responders Gary Jensen, Brandon Kimber and Dale Black, who died after a second collapse during a rescue mission days after the initial collapse.

Here’s how the mine collapse unfolded.

At 2:48 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2007, University of Utah Seismograph Stations recorded a seismic event measured at 3.9 on the Richter scale near the mine. Nearly an hour later, the Emery County Sheriff’s Office is alerted of a mine collapse that has left six men trapped.

It was later discovered the collapse caused the seismic activity.

The men were finished with their 12-hour shift when the collapse occurred. Rescue attempts began early to save the men that were believed to be trapped 1,800 feet underground. However, those efforts were hindered quickly.

“There is absolutely no way that through our underground rescue effort we can reach the vicinity of the trapped miners for at least one week at the earliest,” the mine’s co-owner Bob Murray told media the day of the collapse.

The initial plan was to create a tunnel out of steel, timber and chain link fence to create a pathway to the area the miners were believed to be.

Meanwhile, support began to pour out to the families of the trapped miners.

“This is a coal-mining community and we pray for them,” said a Huntington resident as she and others placed a large paper banner that read “God bless our miners and their families. We pray.”

“We just want them to know our hearts are with them and we’re all hoping and praying for them,” another resident said in an interview with KSL on Aug. 6.

The following days yielded much change. A seismic bump shut down underground rescue work on the second day of the effort. Meanwhile, workers above ground started drilling a 2-inch-diameter 1,800-foot vertical shaft underground.

People in the mining community of Huntington, Utah, come together for a candle light vigil for the six coal miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine Friday, Aug. 10, 2007. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP)
People in the mining community of Huntington, Utah, come together for a candle light vigil for the six coal miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon Mine Friday, Aug. 10, 2007. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP)

On Aug. 8, the names of the trapped miners were released and vigils and Mass were held in Utah. The following day, drillers reached a chamber 1,800 feet underground but were unable to pick up any human noise using a microphone.

After doubt that the drill reached the correct chamber, a second hole was drilled that reached another chamber on Aug. 11. Rescuers said they discovered a survivable area in the chamber but no trace of the miners.

At that time, neighboring communities began a special 24-hour fast and prayer for the families of the men trapped inside.

More attempts at a rescue were made for the next few days. However, on Aug. 16 — 10 days after the mine collapse — three rescuers were killed and six more were injured after another seismic bump registering 1.9 on the Richter scale buried the workers in coal and debris. Underground rescue operations were immediately halted and ultimately suspended the following day.

"I don't think there will ever be an end to it, but it helps to kind of ease the pain.” — Erick Erickson, father of miner Don Erickson

Officials completely halted all rescue attempts on Aug. 31. By then, the story of the trapped miners had become a global story and reaction poured in everywhere, including the White House.

“Last night, a difficult decision was made to end the search,” President George W. Bush said in a statement after the decision was made. “Laura and I are deeply saddened by this tragedy and continue to pray for the families of these men.”

All six miners were entombed in the mine. A memorial was held in Huntington on Sept. 9 for the nine men who died.

A year after the tragedy, a statue honoring the nine men who died was erected and placed at a memorial site near the site of the collapse.

"We appreciated the feeling that was there. It helped to kind of put an end to it. I don't think there will ever be an end to it, but it helps to kind of ease the pain to know that they respected enough to do something like this for them,” said Erick Erickson, the father of Don Erickson, at the opening of the memorial that day.

The mine never reopened after the collapse.

“This mine is going to be sealed and closed. I will never go back in there,” Murray told NPR in an Aug. 23, 2007 interview. “The mountain is alive, it’s a deadly mountain and I’m not going near it.”

In July 2008, the U.S. Mine and Safety Administration fined the mine’s operator Genwal Resources Inc. $1.6 million and mining engineer firm Agapito Associates Inc. an additional $220,000 for "inadequate mine design" that led to the collapse.

Families of the victims filed multiple lawsuits, which eventually led to settlements. The last of those settlements came in 2013.

The Crandall Canyon Mine collapse was Utah’s deadliest mine accident since 1984.


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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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