Holden, WV Slate Fall And Fire In Coal Mine, Mar 1960
NEW FRESH AIR LINE SET UP IN HOLDEN 22.
CRITICAL STAGE NOW REACHED IN RESCUE TRY.
Logan, W. Va., -- (AP) -- Workmen striving to reach 18 trapped miners had a new approach today to where the men are believed holed up, and the rescue chief said, "We're at the critical stage now."
Crawford L. Wilson, state mines director, said a new fresh air line had been set up and converged with the first one.
"These lines of approach are certain and safely supported," said Wilson as he spoke to newsmen after a conference with officials of Island Creek Coal Co.
One rescue team had reached almost within shouting distance -- 150 feet -- of their target deep behind the tunnel which has been clogged with a smoldering fire and slate fall since last Tuesday morning. But rescuers have had to return for fresh oxygen supplies time and again.
Fate of the men who were trapped six days ago remains as shrouded as the smoke and gas-clogged air. However, rescuers believe they had time to barricade themselves off with heavy canvas.
Wilson, veteran mine official who was celebrating his 66th birthday today, walked briskly and was in good spirits as he arrived from an overnight stay in Holden.
He explained that work teams have fought their way through tunnels 7 and 8 and the honeycomb passageways between them. The new fresh air passage through these tunnels has linked with the main rescue attempt up tunnel 4.
The entombed men are believed in an area off 7 and 8, which also can be reached from the No. 4 tunnel.
Earlier, one workman described the tremendous obstacles in the way of the rescuers.
"That smoke is so thick down there you can stick out your finger and punch a hole in it," said Elmer Layne, 37-year-old rescue team captain just up from the black depths.
A rock fall and fire trapped the miners last Tuesday morning in the Island Creek Coal Co. No. 22 mine at nearby Holden, about 12 miles from the Kentucky border.
His face gray with dust, his white miner's hat and khaki shirt and pants streaked with black, the Bartley, W. Va., safety engineer told newsmen early today some of the obstacles rescuers have battled.
You have to crawl on your stomach about 150-200 feet to by-pass the still smoldering fire in the main tunnel.
At another point, you have to wade through knee-deep water for about 140 feet.
Then there's the choking smoke and the deadly carbon monoxide.
At the news conference, company officials told of another heartbreak in the push to reach the trapped men.
"We have made two probes in the past three hours," said T. N. Camiela, Island Creek vice president in charge of operations.
"From our fresh-air hose, we went to a point within 200 feet of the area where we presume the men are barricaded. Then we had to turn back because of dense smoke and heat."
"Then we sent another team out. It went to within 150 feet of the area before turning back. Then they backed up to another point on the main heading (tunnel) and advanced forward 150 feet to a place 100 feet farther than we have ever been before."
"The men stopped at a motor pit (an equipment repair shop). The men tore off a few boards and looked inside. They saw nothing."
Island Creek President Raymond E. Salvati, who used to dig coal himself, began talking:
"There's something wrong with our ventilation system," he said grimly. "We can't get the air to do what it's supposed to do."
Someone asked the inevitable question. Are the men alive?
"I don't think there is any question about it," said Salvati. "Those men are still alive and we are going to get them out."
So where do they go from here?
Camiela said the "fresh-air base" -- the area where oxygen masks aren't needed -- would be pushed to within 650 feet of the area where it's presumed the miners have barricaded themselves with airtight materials.
They're now 960 feet away. How long will that take?
"We'll know something within 24 hours," Salvati said.
Camicia said another crew has been working its way toward the men through two other tunnels with much better ventilation and were within 450 feet of the miners' location.
He said officials also are considering use of self-contained breathing apparatuses. Each weighs 40 pounds but they could dispense with the hoses needed for the oxygen supply.
Charleston Daily Mail West Virginia 1960-03-14
Two days later, unfortunately, the bodies of 18 miners were found.
ROY LEE DEMPSEY.
F. L. JARRELLS.