Orangeville, UT Coal Mine Fire, Dec 1984
TOP MINE OFFICIALS DIE IN UTAH FIRE.
Orangeville, Utah (UPI) -- Rescuers battling thick smoke and a flaring underground coal fire found the bodies of nine men Friday, including six top executives of the Wilberg Mine where 18 others were still trapped in a dead-end tunnel.
The specially trained volunteer rescue squads braved searing heat and falling debris in efforts to reach the other miners, including one woman, who have been trapped for two days more than a mile inside a mountain 115 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
But hopes that they might found alive in a safety chamber deep in the mine were dimmed by discovery of nine bodies huddled in an area of the tunnel just beyond the fire, which was touched off Wednesday night when heat or sparks from a conveyer belt ignited thick coal seams.
It appeared the dead had tried to grope their way out of the smoke-filled tunnel, and may have been leading others, Emery spokesman Bob Henrie said.
"The fact that the six top officials were found in a group near the fire concerns us because they were the leaders. The position of the bodies indicates they may have been attempting to lead others out of the area," he said. "That brings up fears that some other miners were also trying to exit and we may find more bodies further down in the tunnel."
The company officials were in the mine to observe as workers tried to set a 24-hour world production record. Henrie downplayed the production speedup, saying there was "absolutely no correlation" between the record attempt and the fire.
Search team members stumbled across the bodies before dawn Friday. The rescuers, wearing fire retardant suits and portable oxygen units, checke the identities of the victims, then moved on. The bodies were still in the shaft late Friday.
Henrie said the men who died apparently walked about 1,500 feet toward the side tunnel's entrance before they were overcome. Had they made it another 30 feet, he said, they may have been able to get past the fire -- as did section foreman KENNETH BLAKE, the only worker who escaped.
All day the rescue team fought unsuccessfully to work its way into a safety chamber at the end of a 3,000-foot-long side shaft, where the others might be huddled in an air pocket protected by heavy canvas curtains.
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