The structural geology of the area caused the flooded mine void of the shallower Saxman Mine to be at a higher elevation than the active Quecreek Mine. The Saxman mine was located along the axis of the anticlinal Boswell Dome and the Quecreek Mine on the western flank of the anticline. The mine was opened by Quemahoning Creek Coal Company in 1913 as Quecreek No. 2 mine. Saxman Coal and Coke Company purchased the mine in 1925 and operated it until 1963 with an idle period from 1934 through 1941. The mine had also been named Saxman, Harrison, and most recently, Harrison No. 2. The miners were working on July 24, 2002 in the 1-Left panel. The 1-Left panel was driven up dip from the Mains for approximately 3,100 feet. The flooded abandoned mine was located immediately up dip of the Quecreek #1 mine permit boundary in the Upper Kittanning coal seam.
The group of nine miners became trapped 240 feet underground when the flooded Saxman mine was breached as the mining progressed eastward. The time was approximately 8:45 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24. Water had broken through the face and was inundating the entry. They used the mine's phone system to notify another group of nine miners in the 2-Left panel to evacuate immediately, but the mine was flooding too rapidly for the nine miners to evacuate from the 1-Left panel area. Water continued to rise in the mine during the morning hours of Thursday, July 25. During this time period, water levels rose to the portal entrance (inby means inward from mine entrance portal), as follows:
|12:15 a.m.||1788.0||1,900’ inby portals|
|12:55 a.m.||1795.0||1,700’ inby portals|
|3:10 a.m.||1805.0||1,450’ inby portals|
|4:54 a.m.||1810.0||1,350’ inby portals|
|6:11 a.m.||1820.0||1,000’ inby portals|
|6:35 a.m.||1822.0||900’ inby portals|
|8:40 a.m.||1836.0||40’ inby portals|
|9:15 a.m.||1836.0+||Water coming out portals.|
High-capacity diesel pumps were installed in the pit and put into operation in the afternoon. A 6-inch drop in the water level was reported between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. The pumping discharge rate fluctuated constantly as new pumps arrived and changes were made. The maximum pumping rate achieved was approximately 27,000 gpm at the mine pit. Additional borehole locations were surveyed on the surface for holes to be drilled into the lowest area in the mine. Drilling the first hole (No. 1 hole) started in a nearby cornfield at approximately 6:30 a.m. This hole intersected the mine at 11:00 a.m., Thursday, at a depth of 290 feet. This 6-inch hole was later enlarged to 15 inches and a 2,000-gpm pump installed down the hole. Additional dewater holes were drilled to accelerate dewatering.
As pumps worked to discharge the floodwaters from the rapidly filling the mine shaft, engineers and surveyors worked to pin-point the presumed location of the trapped miners, translating subsurface mine maps to locations at ground surface, and the miners’ families assembled at the Sipesville Fire Hall were informed of rescue plans.
Based on GPS measurements, a 6.5-inch diameter borehole was begun at 2:05 a.m. The borehole was drilled to allow air to be pumped into the mineshaft where the miners were presumed to be: at the most up dip location near where the Saxman mine was breached. On Thursday, July 25, 2002, at 5:06 a.m., approximately 8 hours after the breakthrough, the 6.5-inch hole was drilled into the mine. The drilling rig's air compressor pushed air into the mine, and the air returns from the borehole showed an oxygen content decreased to 17%. However, the drilling rig's compressed air rapidly increased the oxygen content of the mine air and created a pressurized air pocket for the miners.
Rescue workers were able to confirm that there were miners alive through their hammer tapping on the drill rod, and the driller at the surface confirmed the signals by lifting the drilling bit from the mine floor and rotating the rod. Once oxygen purging began, drillers began the 30-inch rescue borehole at 6:45 p.m., Thursday, July 25, to intersect 1-Left section. It was located approximately 20 feet away from the 6.5-inch ventilation hole. The 30-inch rescue hole was drilled to a 105-foot depth by 1:12a.m., Friday, July 26. The distance from this point to the mine was estimated at 139 feet. A failure of drilling equipment on occurred, and drilling progress at this borehole stopped for about 18 hours. The miners were concerned, but assumed that something must have broken on the drilling rig.
At the surface, the delay in drilling caused worry for the miners' families and friends, but in background, mine dewatering was progressing that would allow safe penetration of the rescue borehole. But on this summer weekend, the nation and the world watched and waited, radios played at picnics and updates passed at gasoline dispensers and grocery lines. The news media covered the story with hopeful reporting, as many were returning to stay at the same Somerset hotels they occupied while covering the Flight 93 crash site located ten miles away. Pennsylvania governor Mark Schweiker stated that anything less than the rescue of all nine men would be unacceptable.
A new 30-inch bit arrived at 7:00 p.m. Friday , but due to its nominally larger size, the hole had to be enlarged from the surface. This operation started at approximately 8:40 p.m. on Friday. Enlarging the first rescue hole with the new 30-inch bit continued until 2:30 a.m., Saturday, July 27. The operation damaged the outer cutting bits and a new bit assembly was needed. A comparable size bit was not available. Since a 26-inch bit was available and would drill a hole large enough to accommodate the rescue capsule, it was brought to the mine. The 26-inch bit was installed and drilling resumed at 7:00 a.m.
Cut-through into the mine occurred at 10:13 p.m. Saturday. Immediately after the rescue hole penetrated the mine, all equipment was shut down in order to take an accurate relative air pressure reading between the mine and surface atmospheres.
Finally, hours after a hole 30 inches in diameter began to be drilled, rescue personnel were able to lower a cage down to the void where the men had languished in fear and anticipation for 77 hours. At 2:45 a.m. on July 28, 2002, the last of the nine men was pulled up.
The coal mining industry in Pennsylvania developed in Somerset County and also in Cambria County. During the late 1800s, Cambria County developed as a low-wage, non-union place - it was good for businesses but not for the workers, most of them immigrants. Around 1890, however, the United Mine Workers of America began the fight to begin to unionize the county's mines. There was unrest among the non-Union mines and the Unionized mines because the non-Union mines were cheaper to operate, so the Unionized mines had to fight for the Union to give into their demands so that they could stay open. There were fliers and cards passed out to encourage non-Union mines to bring in a Union organizer and have their mine become a part of the Union.
The unique fact about the Quecreek Mine rescue that occurred in July 2002 was that every trapped miner survived and was rescued: nine of nine was the headline of newspapers across the country and the world. No miner was left behind, as so often happens in mine tragedies all over the United States.
The miners in Quecreek were fortunate to get out with their lives and all did recover fully in due time. However, most mining accidents do not turn out well. Over 20,000 miners have died in the bituminous mines of southwestern Pennsylvania since 1877, which is a lower number of fatalities than in the anthracire region of northeastern Pennsylvania where 31,000 miners died since 1870 . In 2006, the Sago Mine disaster claimed all but one life of the miners involved. Another horrible mine disaster happened in Utah in 1924, in the Castle Gate Mine disaster where two explosions in the morning ripped through the mines and took the lives of 178 men. So many mine disasters claim lives of many, because it is so difficult to get into the mine and retrieve the men involved. The Quecreek mine rescue was a complete success because every single man was rescued. The worst mining accident in the United States was the Monongah Mining disaster in West Virginia. An explosion occurred that was the result of a build-up of methane explosion in the mine that took the lives of 361 miners in 1907 . There have been so many coal mining accidents that have taken lives. Listings of all mine accidents that have occurred that have had five or more lives fatalities at this URL http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/statistics/discoal.htm.
Of the nine surviving miners at Quecreek, most decided that their days of mining were over. Thomas Foy's wife said, "My husband said he'll never go into a mine again unless something like this happens again and he has to rescue someone else" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 'All Nine Alive!'). The disaster sparked a nationwide awareness and many saw it as an opportunity to express their feelings on the events through art (see examples below) and also poetry, for example here http://www.deimel.org/poetry/quecreek.htm.
Randall Fogle was the most seriously affected of the nine miners and complained of chest pains upon his rescue. All have since made full recoveries. While some are still in the industry, Fogle, however, is the only member of the group who still works underground. Dennis Hall retired from the industry and vowed never to mine again.
The MSHA report concluded: "The rescue of the trapped miners was a major success. Fogle’s decision and Hall’s persistence to immediately notify the miners in 2-Left section was life saving because of the rapid inflow of water. Without that timely warning they would not have been able to escape. Additionally, the 1-Left section crew’s decisions to stay together, work as a team, and go to the highest ground were crucial for their survival. The miners who escaped the inrush of water made similarly good decisions. Their knowledge of escape ways and escape procedures aided their escape. The fast actions of company officials in calling for assistance of expert personnel and appropriate equipment, and the rapid response of those contacted played a major role in the success of this rescue."
A memorial park was created at the farm field where the drilling rescure operations occurred. The park on Dormel Farms lies to the north of the Somerset County Historical Society on Route 985, and directions are available at http://www.quecreekrescue.org/index.asp.
Governor Mark Schweiker convened an investigation committee in the days after the rescue was completed, paying particular attention to the actions of the Black Wolf Coal Company, which had been previously cited 25 times for violations.
A few books were written about the account. The miners themselves wrote a book about their ordeal.
Buddy Miller's song "Quecreek" from his 2002 album "Midnight And Lonesome", chronicles the accident and rescue.
Local singer/songwriter John Larimer, provides an intimate account of events surrounding the rescue in his song "He Said Yes" which became a local favorite on WMTZ radio, Johnstown, PA.
Singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell recorded a song entitled "Quecreek Flood" on her 2004 album "Hymns for the Exiled." The song explores the political and personal implications of the mining disaster.
2. 3. On the Path of Progress; The Shaping of Cambria County by Seth Cotlar 4. All Nine Alive! (book based on special report above)printed by Triumph Books, Chicago, Illinois, with permission from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette The Book)
Safety agency can do better, report says: Federal researchers should increase studies of coal mine disasters, safety
May 03, 2007; email@example.com Federal mine safety researchers need to improve their efforts to help prevent coal-mining disasters,...