” Trapped ! ”
At 9:53 p.m., there was a frantic call to 911. So began one of the most harrowing underground mine rescues in history. It was a five-day saga in which lives hung in the balance. Anguished wives, mothers, fathers and children held vigil while nine coal miners sat trapped 300 feet below the surface in a 4 foot-high mine shaft. Here’s their gripping story.
Miners working the night shift at Quecreek Mine in Somerset, Pennsylvania, mistakenly tunnel into the shaft of a nearby abandoned mine. Suddenly a wall of coal collapses, sealing them in and 50 million gallons of groundwater flood into the cramped mine shaft. Seeing their peril, the miners radio another mining team—they’re trapped.
As the water level rises, breathable air grows scarce and the numbing cold threatens the miners with hypothermia.
But on the surface rescue teams are already in place. By 3:30 a.m., they have drilled a 6 inch air supply shaft and are pumping water out. The rescue team hears faint tapping, a signal that the miners are still alive.
After three days of drilling and two delays to repair broken drill bits and other equipment, the rescue team reaches the miners at 10:15 p.m., four days after the ordeal began.
A rescue capsule just 24 inches wide descends the shaft. The first miner squeezes into the capsule for the ascent to the surface. One after another, the miners emerge from the cramped mine shaft, exhausted and cold but grateful to be alive.
This rescue, dubbed “the miracle in the mine” had a happy ending—you may not be as fortunate. Confined spaces include any spaces that have limited openings for entry and exits, such as pits, vaults, vessels, tanks, tunnels, pipelines, railroad tank cars, sewers and open surface tanks more than 4 feet deep.
The hazards of confined spaces include too little or too much oxygen and dangerous concentrations of gasses, vapors or combustible dusts. Other life-threatening situations can arise if the space has poor ventilation or if the work requires welding or the use of electrical or mechanical equipment that generates toxic fumes.
If your job requires you to enter a confined space, make sure you know how to work safely in that specific space and that the prescribed precautions are in place before you enter.
A Confined Space is a Dangerous Place. Stay Alert!
*Copyright Harkins Safety 2002