Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Thirteen Miners Trapped Underground in West Virginia

Aired January 2, 2006 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The seconds ticking by, 13 miners trapped underground in a mine. No one has heard from them. No one has seen them. The desperate search to rescue them to see if they are still alive continues.

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): A coal mine explodes in West Virginia; 13 miners trapped hundreds of feet underground. Rescue workers desperately search for survivors while family members stand by, holding out hope.

Plus, they called it the miracle at Quecreek -- nine miners pulled out dirty and shaken, but alive after their 77-hour ordeal. Tonight, hear from one of the miners about what it's like to be trapped underground and what it's like to survive against the odds.

And fire and rain and nature's puzzling paradox. We'll show you the connection between those grass fires scorching the heartland and the severe storms drenching the west.

Tonight, live from Upshur County, West Virginia, here's Anderson Cooper.


COOPER: And good evening. Again, here at Sago Mine in West Virginia, an agonizing wait as rescue workers make their way deep underground. Here is what we know at this moment. There are two teams of rescuers leapfrogging into this mine. The latest information we have is that they are about 4800 feet into the mine.

Now we don't know the exact location of the miners and it's not just us who do not know this. No one does. They are believed to be about 10,000 feet or so into this mine, about 270 feet or so underneath the ground level. They are also beginning to drill -- they were supposed to start drilling at 9:00 o'clock Eastern Time. That did not get underway. They have said around 10:30 that it was supposed to get underway. We do not have confirmation whether the drilling has actually begun.

The purpose of the drilling is twofold. This is really a two- prong rescue effort. You have this leapfrogging team of rescuers. You also have this drill going in, trying to get to where they believe the miners are, to test the quality of the air, what kind of gasses are in the air -- carbon monoxide, how much oxygen is there, how much methane may be there. They're also hoping to be able to use that drill as a communication device, either the miners tapping on the drill as they did at the Quecreek Mine in July of 2002, or to send in some microphones, something that they can actually hear the miners with through that drill. It is very small drill, it is a very precise operation, and it is going very, very slowly at this moment.

We want to talk to a guest who knows an awful lot about the training that these miners go through. They all go through training. As director of field services for the Miner Training Program at Penn State University, Mark Radomsky helps coal miners prepare for situations, rally just like this one here today. He joins us now from State College, Pennsylvania.

Mark, I appreciate you joining us. Just a few minutes ago we saw a demonstration of the breathing apparatus the miners have with them. I just want to show our audience what we saw just a short time ago. And then we're going to talk about. Let's play that clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- somebody's belt. Remove from the belt. Put it on the mine floor. Take the covers off. Close the unit. There's a set of goggles in here. Put the unit over your head. Remove the mouth piece plug. Insert the mouth piece. Put the nose clips on. Activate the oxygen. You're breathing oxygen. Put the waist strap on the bottom, it's elastic. Put it around your waist. Clip. Adjust the strap to hold it in place.


COOPER: So, Mark, does that device actually have oxygen in it or does it just convert the air to oxygen?

MARK RADOMSKY, DIRECTOR OF FIELD SERVICES: It has a chemical in it. It provides oxygen for an hour.

COOPER: So it's only good for one hour?

RADOMSKY: That's correct. It could last a little bit longer. It could blast a little bit less. It depends on how active the person who's wearing it is.

COOPER: We don't know the condition of the trapped miners. We don't know what kind of conditions they are in right now. Assuming they are able, what are some things that miners -- that you recommend miners do to stay alive in a situation like this?

RADOMSKY: Well, they have to try to remain calm. They have to conserve their energy. They have to try to get to a safe place and use whatever tools or whatever resources are available to them. And as you said, they do get a lot of training. The training's repetitious. They get training on the self-rescuer. So they are well-trained, but it is difficult and very stressful in these situations.

COOPER: Yes, because you say -- you call it a self-rescuer, that's the device we just saw? RADOMSKY: The self-contained self-rescuer, the one that provides the oxygen. There is another device called a self-rescuer and it converts carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide and it's used in the event of a fire or any other emergency. The idea, though, is that these are temporary devices. Once they're put on, the miner is to go to fresh air as soon as possible.

COOPER: And that's really the number one thing they try to do is get to a defensive position, actually try to find some place where there is breathable air, and then stay together, correct?

RADOMSKY: Well, ideally, get out of the mine. Sometimes your way is thwarted or blocked. And like the Quecreek miners, they had to go to an area where they were able to stay until they were rescued.

COOPER: The number of mining deaths has dropped an awful lot. Mine safety is probably better than it's ever been. 2005, I think, had the fewest fatalities that we've ever seen in this country. What do you attribute that to?

RADOMSKY: We attribute it to a number of things. It's compliance with the regulations; that's basic and fundamental. It's also technological advances, engineering safety devices and the training. And they're also some innovative activities as well. There has to be a lot of monitoring and control. And people just have to be accountable and responsible and make sure they do it right, do it right the first time and they're very consistent about it.

COOPER: Mark, we have a lot of mining families who are watching this program, a lot of people in this community watching this program. They haven't had the benefit of the training that you do, but their miners have. What can you give -- is there any words of hope that you can give to people out there who are listening about the training that miners and other miners get in a situation like this?

RADOMSKY: Well, you always have to remain very optimistic in these situations. On the other hand, as time goes by, it's cause for concern. But, you know that they do have the good training. You know that they do have the equipment, the mine rescue teams are well trained. And all of these resources are brought to bear on this situation, so you have to remain optimistic. And we're very hopeful and our thoughts and prayers are with the families.

COOPER: Mark Radomsky, appreciate you joining us from Penn State.

Tonight, CNN's Randi Kaye traveled from Atlanta to West Virginia with the governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin. She just came out of the most recent press conference. She joins me now with the latest. Randi, what is the latest?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we were inside that press conference that you are watching here on 360 and the very latest is actually some good news. They're saying that there's two teams now that are inside the mine. They've made their way about 4,800 feet towards the trapped workers. And so that puts them about a mile away from them. That's what they're predicting. The good news here is that they haven't had any problems so far. We're told that they've experienced very safe levels of carbon monoxide, safe levels of oxygen. They haven't come across any debris. So that's very good news.

As far as the drilling goes, we did learn that that drilling was supposed to begin from the surface, down about 260 feet is where they're trying to go. That was supposed to begin originally at 9:00 p.m. Then it was supposed to begin at 10:30. They haven't received any word that it didn't begin. So they take that as a good sign.

Not only are these rescue workers trying to get to the miners, but they also plan to plant listening devices. Once they get to a safe area, these teams by law have to go in and out. So it is a lot of work and very time consuming. But they're leapfrogging their way in and they will plant listening devices to see if they can get any sign of life.

But as you also mentioned, we did travel here with the governor of West Virginia. Hew as in Atlanta actually, planning to attend the Sugar Bowl today. And we flew here with him on his plane. And he is very, very committed to reaching out to the families of these miners. He spoke with them, he visited with them at the Sago Baptist Church here. And he said they're all praying for a miracle. He's praying for a miracle. He plans to stay here, Anderson, through the night, as long as it takes to get to those miners.

COOPER: Yes, and he lost an uncle and a number of friends back in a mining accident back in 1968. So he knows firsthand what this is like.

Just very briefly, that drilling that was supposed -- I mean, that's a big concern. That drilling -- they said it was going to start at 9:00, then now they're saying 10:30 it was supposed to start, but they don't have any final word. Do we know what the holdup is? Why the drilling hasn't begun or hadn't begun at 9:00 o'clock when they said it was going to?

KAYE: No. In fact, they don't know what the holdup is. All they know is that they haven't gotten any word that it didn't happen. So that's all they could say at this point, but we're continuing to press them and hopefully get some answers on whether it did start and if it didn't, why not?

COOPER: Okay. Really, a two-pronged effort, as I said before. The leapfrogging rescue teams going in, making good progress, 4,800 feet is what Randi Kaye just reported. And also, this drilling operation which seems to be the slower arm of this rescue operation.

Randi, appreciate it. Gathering more information as we go.

More than three years ago at the Quecreek Mine in Pennsylvania, the scene was -- well, it was a lot of the same in some ways -- frantic relatives waiting for word on nine miners trapped more than 200 feet below ground, trapped in a four-foot deep air pocket. Time was running out for them. It took three days for rescue workers to finally reach them. And when they did, millions watched as all nine men were pulled out, one by one, alive. Including Thomas Foy, who joins me now on the phone from Berlin, Pennsylvania.

Thomas, your thoughts upon hearing about this mine accident?

THOMAS FOY, MINER, SURVIVED QUECREEK: Well, it's really bad. We don't really like to see stuff like this happen, you know what I'm saying. And like I say, our hopes and prayers are out for all the families and the miners and everything. We just hope that they can come out safe and they can get to them and they're still alive and it's just something that we don't like to see around here.

COOPER: No one does. I mean, Tom, you were trapped with water 237 feet below ground. Water is not so much an issue for these miners. It is the status of the air quality that we don't know about. What is it like -- I mean, what first went through your mind when you realized, you know, you're 237 feet underground and you're trapped?

FOY: Well, like I say, you're trained for, like I say, for being trapped. You got to go and try to get to the safest place. I mean, you're really experienced. You know where you should go. I mean, you want to find your fresh air if you have fresh air down there where there at right now. I mean, it's just, I don't know. It's --

COOPER: Does the training help? I mean, we've heard so much about, you know, the safety equipment these guys have and the training they've gone through. Does that help in a moment of crisis?

FOY: Yes, it does. I mean, everybody's trained on your self- rescuers like that. And what they said, is pretty much true. And like I say, you got to get that thing on and let the fresh air, if there's any there, to get to, you know what I'm saying?

COOPER: And they were able to get you guys fresh air through a drill that they miraculously hit the right spot, brought in some air and you guys started tapping on it to signal that you were alive. When you saw that drill, when you heard it coming, what was it like?

FOY: The best day of our life. We was running out of oxygen. We had about like an hour left and that was a life saver. That was our number one life saver right there by getting air in to us.

COOPER: Have you ever been able to go back into a mine?

FOY: No. Never will either. I'll never put my family through something like that again.

COOPER: And, Tom, for the families who are out there listening tonight -- I drove by a bunch of homes here in the nearby town and they were all watching TV, gathered around their televisions. The friends and loved ones -- what's your message to them, Tom?

FOY: Well, just like I say, that miracles happen. And just keep the prayers up and just hope another miracle happens down there like it did up here, buddy. COOPER: Well, Thomas Foy, it worked out for you and the other miners at Quecreek. And I appreciate you joining us with your perspective tonight.

As we've just heard, lightning may have had something to do with the explosion this morning that trapped 13 miners. And frankly, no one knows, they just don't know at this point. So much of the effort is on the recoveries, on the rescue right now. It has been a stormy day, not just here in West Virginia. There are floods out West that we want to tell you about tonight. And also fires in the Southern Planes. You'll find out how they are all connected.

Plus, a dramatic rescue. I mean, talk about dramatic rescues, it was all caught on tape. A plane falls from the sky into New York's Hudson River. You're going to see how two men cheated death. A remarkable rescue. Stay with 360.


COOPER: Well rescue efforts continue here in West Virginia. Two teams are leapfrogging right now, leapfrogging their way down a shaft. They're hoping to find 13 trapped miners alive.

Joining us now with some latest information is Jim Spears. He's secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety here in West Virginia.

Appreciate you joining us again.


COOPER: What's the latest you have about the drill? It was supposed to start at 9:00 p.m., then they said it didn't. They were hoping it was going to start around 10:30. What's the holdup?

SPEARS: Well, the holdup is we want to make sure that they're drilling in the right place. As you know, drilling is a science as only as much as you can get the exact data that you need in order to make the drill into the exact spot where you think that you need to make that drill.

In this particular case, you have to determine where you best think that the miners are going to be located and then transfer that data to the surface point and then you have to do triangulation to make sure that you in fact are making that drill at the right spot.

COOPER: And even getting the drill up there has been difficult. I mean, as you were saying, there's not a road up there. You got to make a road.

SPEARS: Exactly. It's not just a matter of all of a sudden having drilling equipment right at the exact spot at the time that you want it there. You also have to get the drilling equipment up there. And so just getting the equipment up there also hampers the operation and makes it difficult. COOPER: How much of it is luck in terms of getting that drill at precisely the right spot? I mean, during the Quecreek mine, we heard from those miners, I mean, that it was a miracle, really, that they were able to locate the exact spot.

SPEARS: Well, that's one of the difficult pieces of data that we're trying to do -- determine, is exactly where it is that you should drill. And getting the exact survey data was important and we did not want to start drilling at a spot that we would determine is not best for possibly getting down to those trapped miners. That's one of the reasons why drilling has taken so long to get started. We don't want to go down an area that we really shouldn't have been going down.

COOPER: And so the drill, I mean, we talked about this before. It has a twofold purpose. It's to test the quality of the air and also possibly to drop communication devices down there. In terms of a timeline, I mean, if they get the drill into the right spot, you know, that 260 plus feet down in there, what happens then? What do they do?

SPEARS: Well, as we said, the primary purpose is to test the atmospherics of the air coming out of the particular part of the mine. And then also we hope that we can be able to drop some sensitive communications equipment down to determine if we can make contact with anybody down there. It's at that point that we'll decide what we want to do with the mine shaft.

COOPER: And how quickly can they determine the air quality?

SPEARS: That should be able to be determined as soon as they can get the sensing equipment down there. With that shaft, once they get it down there, it shouldn't take that long.

COOPER: What seems to be making pretty good and pretty steady progress are this leapfrogging rescue teams -- got two teams in there right now. A number of teams are ready on standby to just keep this process going all night long. They're at -- the last count we heard was 4,800 feet. Is that what you have?

SPEARS: Forty-eight hundred to 5,000. It's not exact. The way we're gauging it is by their location as they call in; however, they're also going off to the sides and they're also making repairs to ventilation equipment as they go. So 4,800 - 5,000 square feet, that's a good rough estimate.

COOPER: And it's good news that the readings -- the air quality readings they've been getting have been safe levels, correct?

SPEARS: That's true. However, one of the reasons why they have gone as slowly as they have is they have to test for the atmospherics as they go along and they did get some slight methane, elevated methane levels, but then those levels decreased again as they went on and made the repairs to the various ventilators.

COOPER: And pardon my ignorance, I didn't do very well in science class. Methane, where does it come from and why is that of such concern?

SPEARS: Right. Methane is a natural gas and under surface of the world.

COOPER: Okay. And high quantities of methane clearly it's something that -- it's not breathable, it's not good for human habitation?

SPEARS: Right.

COOPER: Alright. Jim, appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

SPEARS: Thank you.

COOPER: I know it's a busy night for you. Thank you.

I want to check on some other top stories right now. Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS" joins us with some of the other headlines. Hi Erica.


We can tell you now at least five people, including one child, we know are dead after the collapse of a skating rink's snow-covered roof. This happened in a southern German town, Bad Reichenhall. All told, 35 people were injured, 19 of those victims remain hospitalized.

In the meantime, in Iraq a suicide bomber killed seven and wounded 13 when he detonated his car near a bus north of Bakuba. The bus, which was carrying Iraqi police recruits, was destroyed in the attack, as were a number of civilian vehicles nearby.

And also in Iraq, a promise kept. Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr Uloom today announced he resigned his post. All this as a protest over higher gas prices. Uloom threatened to do that just about two weeks ago if the situation didn't change. Keeping his word there.

In his first year-end report since joining the Supreme Court three months ago, Chief Justice John Roberts put higher pay for federal judges at the top of his agenda, something his predecessor had been putting there for 19 years. Chief Justice Robert called the paltry current pay, quote, "a direct threat to judicial independence." Maybe he'll have a little more luck with that one -- Anderson.

COOPER: Alright, Erica, thanks very much.

In Oklahoma, Texas wildfires have charred hundreds of thousands of acres. And Oklahoma City's mayor says it may still get worse before it gets better. After the break, we'll meet the brave firefighters who are battling a deadly mix of powerful flames, strong winds and not enough rain. And that is not likely to change.

Also coming up live from right here in West Virginia, we'll meet a family member of one of the miners who is down below. A family member waiting for word on their loved one. Stay with us on 360. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We continue to follow the situation here in West Virginia -- 13 miners trapped beneath the ground about 10,000 feet inside this mine. I'm joined by the relative of one of the miners, Michelle Mouser. Her uncle, Terry Helms, is one of the 13 men trapped underground.

Michelle, thanks very much for being with us. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances. How are you holding up?

MICHELLE MOUSER, UNCLE TRAPPED IN MINE: I'm doing pretty good. I'm rally worried about my family mostly. But we're all -- we're pretty strong people. We all stick together and we do what we can. I'm trying to be strong for my uncle that's in the mine. But if I know Terry, he's okay and he's helping everybody else get through it and get out of there.

COOPER: And you have been here all day long?


COOPER: Who do you have with you, keeping this vigil?

MOUSER: I have his fiancee with me. I have his daughter. His son's on the way up from Myrtle Beach. I have his sister, which is my mother; and his other brother; and then the rest of the family.

COOPER: I was talking to the governor earlier, whose uncle passed away in 1968 in a mine.

MOUSER: Right.

COOPER: And he lost a lot of friends and about what that was like for him, waiting through it. But I mean, it's just got to be indescribable, kind of hour after hour, just waiting for bits and pieces of information.

MOUSER: It is. It's very hard. And then when you hear -- you see the lights or the ambulance or something coming, you think that there's hope. But, you know, and it goes back and forth. You get good news, you get bad news. So we just got to wait and see. You know, once they get in there and how close they get what the situation is.

COOPER: You have, I mean, mining in your family, going back a long way, do you ever -- I mean, you never get used to something like this, but you seem resolved to it in some way.

MOUSER: Everybody's been a coal miner in my family, back to my great-grandfathers, all through -- up this -- to my uncles and stuff. There's been a lot of changes. There's been a lot of safety things that's changed and made it better, but like today, we didn't expect nothing to happen.

COOPER: And what is your -- I mean, how do you get through each hour? What is it that is keeping you, you know, I mean, is it updates of information? What is it --

MOUSER: Really, I think it's just our family all sticking together, being there together and supporting each other. And the updates help. But they're very far and in between. We don't get very many updates. So, I think it's just the family sticking together and everybody -- coal miners stick together no matter what.

COOPER: Well, I could tell that when I drove up here, you know, I'd drive by houses and everywhere I saw families gathered around the television. There were signs up, pray for the families, pray for the miners. So, I mean, you got to feel the love of this community and the entire world who is watching the story right now. I hope you feel some of that.

MOUSER: Oh, you know, we feel a lot of it. I mean, it's been really great the way we got here this morning, the church is already set up, all the food was set up. The Red Cross was here. Everybody was ready and prepared for these families, to start taking over and helping them with everything.

COOPER: And how long has your uncle been a miner?

MOUSER: Thirty-five years.

COOPER: Wow. So, I mean, it -- and always in this mine?

MOUSER: No. He's been in Blacksville Mine and Morgantown and moved around, but he's been in this mine less than six months because a new company took over, so they moved him over here.

COOPER: And your father has also been in the mines and in the mining field for a long time and he's, I mean, he's had a lot of bad luck too, hasn't he?

MOUSER: My father tears down and rebuilds mining equipment for all over the U.S. And there's occasions he has to go into the mines to fix a piece of equipment, which he really tries to get out of that all the time, but there's occasions he has to go in and do some welding and stuff in the mines. But yes, he's had a few bad accidents with the mining equipment and stuff also.

COOPER: What is it, for people who don't have any association with mining, I mean, what is the life like for yourself, for family members of miners? Is it every day when they go out to work, do you worry?

MOUSER: Yes. It's -- I think, you know, you try to learn to worry about -- not to worry about it and everything else. So, you just take it day by day and go from there.

COOPER: I guess it's like having a loved one who's a soldier or a Marine, you just kind of -- it's just part of the job.

MOUSER: Yes. It's the same thing because you don't know what's going to happen from day to day. COOPER: Well, Michelle, you know, God bless you and I wish the best for your family and your Uncle Terry and all the other miners there and let's hope very soon you and I are talking again and we have a happy story to tell.

MOUSER: Alright. Just keep praying, everybody, for us.

COOPER: We will, Michelle. Thank you very much.

MOUSER: Thank you.

COOPER: Michelle Mouser, her Uncle Terry is still one of the 13 miners trapped beneath the ground. We'll have a lot more here from West Virginia.

We'll also take a look back at the miracle at Quecreek, what happened more than three years ago. How those miners survived and what the lessons learned there. How those lessons may help the miners here.

Plus, what rescuer workers are facing right now underground. It is not easy. It is slow going. Step by step, operating with their hands. We'll talk to an expert for some insight.

And also, a dramatic rescue on the Hudson River of a downed plane, today, in New York. Stay with us.


COOPER: We're here in Upshur County where 13 miners trapped. A lot of families are hoping for a miracle tonight. As harrowing as the wait can be, and we've just heard how it is, and as badly as things can go, there is comfort, too, in knowing that sometimes miracles do happen.

Earlier in the hour we spoke with someone who experienced it first hand, down in the mine at Quecreek. The larger story now of what happened then from CNN Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The world was watching as rescuers desperately drilled under 240 feet of rock, trying to save nine men in a flooded Pennsylvania mine. But nobody above the ground knew if the miners were dead or alive. And then came the word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All nine are alive.

TUCHMAN: After 77 hours, with tens of millions of gallons of water having flooded the Quecreek Mine, the men were pulled one at a time in a cage-like cylinder. All nine miners had survived. And over a 90-minute period they were all rescued on live TV.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lucky seven, Dennis J. Hall, H-A-L-L. He's 49 years old. And he's a local boy from Johnstown. TUCHMAN: Dennis Hall comes from a family of minors. He had worked underground since he was a teenager. At first, he was hopeful there would be a rescue, but 18 hours went by where nothing was heard from above.

DENNIS HALL, MINER: Time was running out, as that water filled the mine up, we were losing our oxygen.

TUCHMAN: Hall and his fellow miners wrote goodbye letters to their families and put them in a bucket.

HALL: I made peace with the Lord and I figured, if this is the way he wants me to die, you know, I accept this. I didn't like it, but I did accept it.

TUCHMAN: Another trapped miner, Danny Fogel (ph), felt the same way. And thought about family members in the mines before him.

DANNY FOGEL (ph), MINER: I've had on my mom's side, her dad died in the mines. My uncle, on her side, lost his leg in the mines. On my wife's side, her dad lost his dad before he was born.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His name is Randy Fogel (ph).

TUCHMAN: Heroic measures by many made the rescue possible. The Quecreek mine is under a farm, the owner of the farm did the first digging.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they were under my property, I somehow felt responsible for their well-being.

TUCHMAN: A microphone lowered into the ground ultimately it clear everyone was alive. The cage was dropped inside, and the miners realized they were saved.

HALL: Wow, you know. I can't believe this. You know? I just couldn't believe it.

TUCHMAN: Some of the men still work in the coalmining industry, but only Randy Fogel (ph) is still working underground. Dennis Hall, husband and father of two, undergoes counseling. And at his family's request will never work again as a miner.

HALL: You know, how they say, stop and smell the roses. Well, there's a lot of truth to that.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: Well, that of course was in July of 2002. Joining us live now is a man with a great deal of experience in this difficult and delicate kind of rescue work. Joseph Sbaffoni is the director of Bureau of Deep Mine Safety at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Joseph, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much for being with us. As we watch this rescue operation underway, what should we keep in mind?

JOSEPH, SBAFFONI, DIRECTOR, DEEP MINE SAFETY BUREAU: I think the most important thing is that the efforts that are going on by both the state and the federal agencies and the mining company down there, to try to get underground and get back to where those miners should be located.

COOPER: What is the most difficult thing in a rescue operation like this? We are told there are two teams now, leapfrogging their way down into this mine. What's the most -- what's the hardest thing they are facing?

SBAFFONI: Right now, they're moving along pretty quickly because it seems like the areas that they're traveling the air is relatively safe. Evidently, when this explosion occurred it probably damaged some ventilation controls. Once the teams reach those areas the going will probably slow down because those areas will be contaminated.

COOPER: How is this operation different than the Quecreek operation? I mean, there it was water that was involved. Water is not playing a role here, we're told.

SBAFFONI: Well, I think the biggest difference was the rescue team part of it. At Quecreek we ended up where we didn't have to use any teams underground. We had a mine that was filled with water. We had to put a plan in place to try to keep those individuals alive and then drill a rescue hole to make -- to be able to bring them out of the mine.

In this case here, we have miners who are underground, we don't know where they're located. And all the work has to be done by the mine rescue teams entering the mine and proceeding back to the areas where everyone feels the miners would be located.

COOPER: And it is -- I mean, how precise can you be about where these miners are? How do you try to figure that out?

SBAFFONI: Well, in this case here, I think that the other crew was not too far behind them. And so I think they have a very, very good idea of where the miners are located. They have an idea of where the explosion took place and where there is some damage to ventilation controls.

So, I think they have a general idea of where they're located. I'm sure they're in the process of trying to drill some rescue holes down into the mine, probably for the purpose of monitoring the atmosphere. But also in hopes of being able to locate where the miners are if there are any still alive.

COOPER: Joseph, appreciate you joining us for your expertise. Thank you very much.

SBAFFONI: You're quite welcome. COOPER: There is so much to cover here. We believe there may be another press conference around midnight. We will bring that to you live, of course, if it happens.

A lot more ahead though on 360, it's a tough battle for firefighters in Texas and Oklahoma. And the dry weather is only making things worse there. After the break we go to the frontlines of fighting those fires. How emergency teams working the beat massive fires when everything seems to be going against them.

Plus, a plane crash in the Hudson River. It has been quite a day and a dramatic rescue. All of it caught on tape, we'll show you how it unfolded when 360 continues.


COOPER: Well, as rescuers here in West Virginia try to reach 13 miners still trapped at this moment, underground, firefighters in the southern plains are dealing with a crisis of their own; massive wildfires that are still, at this hour, burning out of control.

Since the day after Christmas more than 80,000 acres have been scorched in Texas. More than 100,000 in Oklahoma and the whole region has seen little help from Mother Nature. There has been barely any rain and winds and unusually high temperatures have been fueling the flames. No relief is in sight, I'm sad to say.

The fires have claimed at least four lives, destroyed hundreds of homes. So far, what ignited most of them remains unknown, though some have been blamed on fireworks or arching power lines. CNN's Jonathan Freed takes us inside the battle to control the flames.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The sun has just come up on the first day of the year in Oklahoma and firefighters are already worried about what the day will bring.

SCOTT CURL, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: This is a long-term drought. We've been running with this for several years now, you know, it's just continuing to get worse. And we won't see any improvement.

FREED: At the state emergency management headquarters in Shawnee, Oklahoma, fire teams find out conditions are dangerously perfect, no humidity, no rain, hot temperatures, and high winds. There will be fires today, lots of fires.

The state of Oklahoma has been burning for a week. It has exhausted local fire crews. Firefighters from four Southern states have come in to help. Some drove right through New Year's Eve to make it this morning.

Oklahoma wildfire specialist Andy James will lead the visiting crews. They don't have to wait long for a call. ANDY JAMES, OKLAHOMA FORESTRY SERVICE: We got the Black Hawk from Awaseau (ph), it will be launched and coming to help you guys out.

FREED: The fire chief in Bristol, near Tulsa, needs help. While James and his team head that way, the Black Hawk goes to work with water.

In Bristol the fire has consumed several hundred acres and is spreading fast. James' team joins a multi-front war. As spotter planes circle, James begins digging a fire line, a trench of dirt to cut off the fire from fuel.

JAMES: We try to come in from the rear and we flank it on both sides and eventually come together. And pinch the fire off.

FREED: Bulldozers are key, the plow a path, burying dry brush, creating a wall the flames can't move beyond. Next, the fire crews start a back fire, a controlled burn to consume the brush remaining inside the fire line, ideally forcing the fire to die out. After a few hours the spotter plane calls down with the word of victory -- containment. James has won this battle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole thing is looking good. Really the only thing going is just the interior.

JAMES: That's good news.

FREED: No one was hurt in this fire and no buildings burned, but there is no time to celebrate.

JAMES: We've been requested to go to another fire east of here. Not exactly sure how far. Not exactly sure how far, but we're going to load up these two dozers and take the other two and head over that way.

FREED: Another fire, 15 miles away and this one is threatening homes. By the time James and his heavy equipment get there. People are out with garden hoses.

JAMES: Could you tell those guys to just knock it down a little bit.

FREED: The winds pick up, fanning the flames, and firefighters struggle while smoke shrouds the sun. A plane drops flame retardant on a dry pasture nearby, trying to protect a home. The owners watch silently as flames flicker close to their fence.

James and his crews try to dig a trench around this fire as well. It's moving too fast, but somehow they save the house. Dusk creeps in over the burnt landscape, but James' day still isn't over.

It's 12 hours since he left the command center. The second fire continues to spread, igniting surrounding fields and threatening more homes.

JAMES: I'll have that. Got mayo on it?


JAMES: Good deal.

FREED: A break for just a few minutes for a bologna sandwich, made by a grateful resident. Then it's back to work, showing a man how to protect his home with a fire line.

JAMES: Yeah, but if that hose (ph) you're keeping (ph) gets disconnected from here to there, those fire departments will burn it out. We'll keep it off this house and that will have all of this buttoned up.

FREED: But he's too late to save another home down the road. James has fought plenty of fires over the years, but this season humbles him.

JAMES: I've seen fires burn this bad in Oklahoma, don't get me wrong, but I've never seen so many, statewide, for so long. We've been at this since October and we don't have any end in sight.


FREED: Now, Anderson, I'm about 10 miles northeast of downtown Oklahoma City, which is over there in that direction. And about four homes were destroyed by a fire here in this area that started about 24 hours ago.

Now, as you can see, this home behind me here has been smoldering all day, even though firefighters initially left before dawn earlier today. Yet they were back here just a few minutes ago, pouring more water on the scene. It is just that dry -- Anderson.

COOPER: It is incredible that you can still see the smoke behind you, Jonathan. Unbelievable. Thanks very much for that tonight.

It may seem like a cruel coincidence, but wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas are directly related the heavy rains and severe flooding out West. While the effects in the two regions are totally different, the cause is coming from the same source. CNN's Rob Marciano explains.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): Fire, wind, rain, floods, what's happening in California may seem totally separate from what's going on in Texas and Oklahoma, but they are connected.

First, look at the tremendous amount of rain that has fallen in California. Since Christmas Day, Redding, California has had almost two feet of rain. Just north of there, in the mountains, Slate Creek has had over three feet of rain. And all of this has lead to flooding along the Russian River in Napa.

You fight it the whole time, until you finally just throw in the towel, I think. And realize you're not going to win. MARCIANO: Helicopter rescues of people trapped by rushing water. Flooding water up to four-feet deep, causing up to $40 million worth of damage in the Marin County town if San Anselmo. At Mammoth Mountain, in the Sierra Nevadas has received almost 50 inches of snow in the past 24 hours.

Here's how it all comes together: The winter storm track, basically, a river of air, comes off the Pacific Ocean, picking up moisture and dumping it as in rain in most of California, and snow in the mountains. Those storms are bringing rain and snow into the Northern Plains, like Montana and Wyoming.

Here's what you might not expect. Those same storms are pulling up warm dry air off the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico and blowing them over Texas and Oklahoma, already suffering from a drought since early summer and intensifying the already high risk of fire.


MARCIANO: And it looks like conditions will once again be ripe, over the next couple of days, through the Northern Plains and Southern Plains as this current system makes its way over the Rockies and into that part of the country, once again, whipping up those winds.

The good news here tonight, in California, is that the rains the flooding rains have ended and the storm track will move to the north, and give California, at least, a bit of a break -- Anderson.

COOPER: It is amazing how it is all connected. Rob Marciano, thanks for that.

We're going to be following the story of West Virginia's trapped miners, all night long. There could be another news conference, we're going to bring that to you live. And in a moment I'll also talk to the governor of West Virginia for the latest information he has on the rescue operation.

Also ahead, cheating death, a plane crashes into New York's Hudson River. The dramatic rescue is all caught on tape. We'll bring that to you as well on 360.


COOPER: West Virginia's governor, Joe Manchin, has just bee up to the site of the mine and he comes down with the latest information we have.

Governor, thanks for being with us. What do you know now that you didn't know earlier?

GOV. JOE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGINIA: Anderson, basically, they were showing me how they've been progressing and what the time consumption has been. Most people think, well, you can just start walking and walk in 12,000 feet and survey the area and that's not the case. We're concerned about the safety of the rescuers going in. And they have to make sure they're secured as they go. We're moving rapidly until we get to the first break, as we call it. The explosion happened at the second break, up at the face. And if you could imagine going straight this way, and you have a break coming off first, then the second break. When they get to this first break we have to secure that and making sure that our rescuers don't get trapped in something -- harm's way can enter in or there might be a fire or something.

That will slow the progress down and it will probably be morning before we're able to secure and get by that. So --

COOPER: So, you're not anticipating, really, much new information until the morning?

MANCHIN: What I can tell you is the air -- they're working in what we call a free environment. They are operating without their apparatuses. That's very good. That means that there are no either fire, or we're not causing any more carbon monoxide. With that being said, they are very cautiously, as they go to secure, so it doesn't look like that we're going to be able to have all of that secured before morning, to get to the final cut or the final break, if you will, to get to the face.

They're drilling now a six-inch hole down, right at the point where the explosion happened. What we're hoping for is the explosion, the force of the explosion would have missed them and they would have been able to barricade themselves and had enough good air there to do that, still secure that, because we're showing good levels there.

But when we drill that hole we'll know more, but as we say, we're still very hopeful and hoping for miracles.

COOPER: And has the drilling actually begun?


COOPER: Because there was some question about that earlier.

MANCHIN: The drilling has begun. They're drilling a six-inch hole, which will be for monitoring and its for ventilation also. But that is going on as we speak. That is a three to four hour operation, as I'm told. And the mine, I think a lot of people believe this is like going down straight 12,000 feet. It is basically what we call a drifter slope mine. It is going back into the hillside and there is about 250 feet of cover overtop of it. So, they are on top drilling down through.

COOPER: And you've met with the rescuers?


COOPER: And how are their spirits? How are the spirits of everyone who is working up there?

MANCHIN: The rescuers, and we've got the best and the greatest people from around the state and around the country, here helping. And they're on three to four hour shifts, rotating and leapfrogging back and forth. So, they are doing everything humanly possible. And that's what we want the families to know. And we're giving them the most up-to-date information that we have.

And it is just a tough time, you know, and everyone is -- a minute seems like an hour, an hour seems like day, for the families. I've been there, so I know what they're going through. And we're going to go down and make sure that we keep them up to date.

COOPER: We just talked to some family members and it means a awful lot to them that you are here, personally, on the scene. And you have been for quite sometime. Governor Joe Manchin, appreciate you joining us with the latest information. Thank you.

MANCHIN: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: In New York, today, another dramatic rescue we want to tell you about. In the Hudson River, a plane falls from the sky, you will see for yourself how rescue workers saved two lives. It was all caught on tape, that is next on 360.


COOPER: Well, as we wait for word on the trapped miners, we might draw hope from two men who survived a near tragedy today, north of New York City. One moment they were flying over the Hudson River, the next they were in the Hudson River. The water temperature in the mid-30s, cold enough to kill you in a matter of minutes. Here's CNN's Allan Chernoff.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Two pilots from New Jersey floundering in the Hudson River just north of New York City, after engine trouble forced and emergency landing on the water. Helicopter rescue teams arrived within minutes. The Coast Guard pursuing one pilot, the New York Police Department, the other.

ANTHONY CASSILLO, NYPD PILOT: Once we got with 30, 40 feet we were able to see him. There was very little above the surface at that point, when we got there. Face and hands was all I particularly saw.

CHERNOFF: Divers plunged into the 40 degree water to nab the pilots who were rapidly losing body heat.

LIAM DEVINE, NYPD RESCUE DIVER: When I swam up to him, he didn't try to grab me, he didn't try to hold onto me. Normally, people in the water that is what they do. And so I knew he was in bad condition at that point.

(On camera): It was thanks to a retired New York City police officer that the rescuers arrived so quickly. He happened to be flying helicopter at the time of the mayday and immediately contacted NYPD Aviation; 14 minutes later the divers were in the water.

(Voice over): The precious minutes saved may have meant the difference between life and death.

DEVINE: When we put him in the basket, he wasn't trying to hold the basket. He was hypothermic. He was losing a lot of his muscle strength.

CHERNOFF: Coast Guard Rescuer Ben Bradley says the pilot he helped save looked dazed and terrified when he was pulled into the helicopter.

BEN BRADLEY, COAST GUARD: He could not say anything. He was pretty hypothermic.

CAPTAIN FRANK MESSAR, YONKERS EMS UNIT: They were here very fast. The divers were in the water very fast, and I think survival depends upon the speed with which they got up here and got in the water.

CHERNOFF: The single-engine plane was underwater not long after the crash. Both rescue teams flew the victims to Jacoby Medical Center in the Bronx. For Tony Sanseverino, who just retired from the NYPD on December 31, and now flies tourists, it is a gratifying addendum to a career of service.

TONY SANSEVERINO, CAPT., LIBERTY TOURS: When you retire it's something you turn off. I'm constantly flying, looking around, you know. So, its in me, it's in my blood.

CHERNOFF: The struggle is not over for pilots John Eberly (ph), 43, and Mark Sorrey (ph), 44. They remain under treatment for hypothermia. A hospital spokesperson tonight said they were in fair condition.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.


COOPER: So, here is the latest information. Two teams are leapfrogging to try to rescue these miners. They are at last count at about 5,000 feet into the mine. The miners are believed to be about 10,000 feet into this mine. The drilling has begun, the governor has confirmed that. But it is a slow process. And as the governor, here, himself said the minutes feel like hours for the families who are waiting. And they will be waiting all night.

We will continue to cover this story all night, brining you any developments as they happen, live. A special edition of "Larry King" is next, an hour on the mine rescue mission here in West Virginia. Stay with CNN throughout the evening, throughout the night and the morning, for the very latest.


© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines