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Blast miners found dead.

Byline: By John Brophy

Jubilation turned to horror today when the families of the 12 trapped US miners learned that their loved ones were dead.

Hours earlier they were celebrating the news that the men had been found alive after the underground explosion, only to learn later that they had been misled and just one miner survived.

The owner of the mine in Sago in the Tallmansville area of West Virginia, blamed the stunning error on a misunderstood conversation overheard between rescuers and the command centre overseeing the rescue operation.

Families learned of the deaths from mine officials more than three hours after the state Governor, Joe Manchin, said he had been told the miners had survived the disaster. The sole survivor was in hospital, a doctor said.

International Coal Group chief executive officer Ben Hatfield told the families that only one miner, Randal McCloy, aged 27, had survived and was in a critical condition.

"It's the highest-paying job around, and of course it's the most dangerous job, too," said McCloy's brother-in-law, Rick McGee, 36.

"Everybody says you're making a lot of money," he said. "But we're risking our lives every day. We're just here for our families. That's the only reason."

John Groves, whose brother Jerry Groves was one of the trapped miners, said that Mr Hatfield told the families gathered at the Sago Baptist Church that there had been a lack of communication, that what they were told was wrong and that only one survived.

At that point, chaos broke out in the church and a fight started.

Mr Hatfield said the erroneous information spread rapidly when people overheard mobile phone calls between rescuers and the rescue command centre.

In reality, rescuers had confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs, he said.

"The initial report from the rescue team to the command centre indicated multiple survivors," Mr Hatfield said during a news conference. "That information spread like wildfire because it had come from the command centre. It quickly got out of control."

Hatfield said the company waited to correct the information until it knew more about the rescue.

Bells at a church where relatives had been gathering had rang out as family members ran out screaming in jubilation. Relatives yelled "They're alive!" "They had told us they had 12 alive," said Governor Manchin.

Earlier, Davitt McAteer, Mine Safety and Health Administration's director under the Clinton administration who now heads the Coal Impoundment Project at Wheeling Jesuit University, had warned that finding the men alive seemed improbable.

"You had an explosion. You had a toxic atmosphere. They had to find some way to barricade themselves, and you have readings four times what you could breathe. That's impossible to fathom," he said.

After the blast mine officials had found extremely dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the part of the mine where the men where believed to have been.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Jan 4, 2006
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