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Mine company regrets not telling families tragic truth.

Byline: BY LIAM CHRISTOPHER Daily Post Correspondent

MINING company officials yesterday said they regretted allowing relatives of 12 miners to believe the men were alive.

Family members were told that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners were dead - three hours after they began celebrating news that they were alive.

The 13 miners had been trapped 260 feet below the surface of the Sago Mine, in central West Virginia, since an explosion early on Monday.

Last night, the sole survivor, Randal McCloy, was in critical condition with a collapsed lung and dehydration but no sign of brain damage or carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped by an explosion for more than 42 hours, a doctor said.

At 27, McCloy was among the youngest in the group.

Ben Hatfield, chief executive of mine owner International Coal Group, said the owners "sincerely regret" that families erroneously believed for three hours that their loved ones were alive.

"In the process of being cautious, we allowed the jubilation to go on longer than it should have," Hatfield said. He added that the mine company had done the best it could under extreme stress and exhaustion.

Gene Kitts, a vice president at ICG, suggested that the misunderstanding about the miners' condition might have resulted because the rescuers in the mine were wearing full-face oxygen masks when they used radios to report their findings to their base.

Most of the 13 coal miners apparently survived the blast itself, retreated deeper into the mine and hung up a curtain-like barrier to keep out deadly gases while they waited to be rescued, officials said.

How long they survived was not immediately disclosed. But, on Tuesday, rescuers drilled a narrow hole near the spot and got no response when they banged on a steel pipe and listened for an answer.

One of the dead was found at least 700 feet from where the others had barricaded themselves, apparently killed by the force of the blast, Hatfield said.

It was the deadliest US coal mining disaster in more than four years.

The devastating new information about the dead shocked and angered family members, who had rejoiced when a report began to spread that 12 miners were alive.

Bystanders applauded as they saw McCloy brought from the mine - not realising he would be the only one to come out alive.

As rescue workers tried to get to the men, families had waited at the Sago Baptist Church during a grueling two-day vigil. But late on Tuesday night, families began streaming out of the church, yelling "They're alive!" The church bells began ringing and families embraced, as politicians proclaimed word of the apparent rescue a miracle.

Hatfield blamed the wrong information on a "miscommunication." The news spread after people overheard mobile phone calls, he said. In reality, rescuers had only confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs.

At least two family members in the church said they received mobile phone calls from a mine foreman.

Three hours later, Hatfield told the families that "there had been a lack of communication, that what we were told was wrong and that only one survived".

Chaos broke out in the church and a fight started. About a dozen state troopers and a SWAT team were positioned along the road near the church because police were concerned about violence.

Witnesses said one man had to be wrestled to the ground when he lunged for mining officials.

Company officials waited to correct the information until they knew more about the rescue, Hatfield said.

"Let's put this in perspective. Who do I tell not to celebrate? I didn't know if there were 12 or one alive," Hatfield said.

It was the worst US coal mining disaster since a pair of explosions tore through a mine in Brookwood, Alabama in September, 2001, killing 13.

Federal Labour Department officials promised an investigation.

Chaos in church as truth comes out

CAPTION(S):

Members of miners' families walk away after hearing the truth about casualties Picture: N GHANBARI
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 5, 2006
Words:668
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