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Rescuers Hope to Reach Utah Miners Thursday

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

We may finally know, sometime tonight, the fate of six coal miners in Utah trapped since Monday. Rescue crews have been drilling a two-inch hole that's close to reaching the men. Once the drilling is finished, the rescue team will send down tiny cameras and listening devices. And of course, they'll be looking and listening for signs of life.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: The drilling was proceeding well and crews thought they had reached the miners this afternoon, but then they discovered the men are farther down on the mountain than first thought, about eighteen-hundred feet. Mine owner Bob Murray says as soon as the drill reaches where the trapped miners are located, crews will lower a communications device.

ROBERT MURRAY: Oh, it won't take us but a few minutes. What we have done, we've already checked out the equipment. That equipment's ready to go. As quicker as we can drop it down to -hook up the communication equipment, we'll be able to start seeing if we're picking up any noise down there.

BRADY: Murray says crews also have cameras they can lower down the hole. He says they'll even figure out a way to get food and water to the men if they need it. By Friday evening, an eight-and-a-half inch hole should be drilled, making it easier to send down supplies.

Down in the mine, workers are clearing about 300 feet of rubble every day. Murray says if the debris is solid all the way to where the miners are, that process could take six to seven days. While crews worked day and night, families of some of the victims attended a special mass a half hour away in Huntington.

Bishop John Wester of the Diocese of Salt Lake City led the mass.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL TONE)

JOHN WESTER: Very often in life, we find ourselves lost. And yet we know that, especially in the second reading of the Gospel of Matthew, that Jesus came to reassure us that God is always with us and that God will never, ever abandon us even in our darkest hour.

BRADY: Arch Allred was at the mass. His cousin, Kerry Allred, is among the trapped miners.

ARCH ALLRED: Kerry has a lot of endurance. You know, he'll hang in there until the end. The job never was finished until it was completely done, in Kerry's mind. They're all holding strong. They've got faith that there's people trying to rescue them.

BRADY: Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. also attended the mass. He spent many hours this week, comforting the families of the trapped miners. But he also responded to news that a second group of geologists has concluded the mine collapse was not caused by an earthquake. Geologists at the University of Utah first reached that conclusion in the hours after the collapse. Then, yesterday, scientists at the University of California at Berkeley backed them up.

Governor Huntsman says he'll wait before expressing an opinion.

JON HUNTSMAN J: Well, I think those are two pretty good schools. That will likely be placed into a broader, comprehensive report and investigation that will then be undertaken by the federal authorities. And I, for one, look forward to reading that report and learning from it and getting smarter, better and safer as a result of what they have to say.

BRADY: Mine owner Bob Murray is not ready to agree with the scientists' conclusions, and said he only wants to talk about the rescue effort.

MURRAY: And I said I wasn't going in and talk about that anymore. And since you won't honor my request, this interview, for my part, is concluded.

BRADY: Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Richard Stickler would talk about the issue, but only to say his agency's investigation hasn't started yet.

RICHARD STICKLER: It would be disruptive to the rescue operation because we would be interviewing people. We would be taking management time, people that need to be focused on this rescue operation.

BRADY: Stickler says a panel of eight to ten people will be appointed, and they'll look into all the evidence to find out what caused the accident at the mine. He says a conclusion will be made public a couple months after the investigation begins.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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