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Miners Trapped Underground

Aired January 2, 2006 - 21:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, 13 coal miners trapped nearly two miles inside a West Virginia mine since an early morning explosion. We're on the scene with the very latest on the desperate and dangerous rescue efforts that are now underway next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Welcome, I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in tonight for Larry King. Let's go right to the scene. Our Anderson Cooper is there. Anderson, set the stage for us. What do we know about this rescue operation?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, they are apparently just about to start drilling. As we know, the miners are some 276 feet below the surface of the ground where we are now. We have just gotten word that they plan to start to drill for two reasons, two very important reasons; one, to try to get some air to where they believe the miners are, though they don't know the exact location where they are but also to try to get some sort of communication with the miners if that is possible.

That's one of the first things that they try to do in an operation like this. At this point, they do not know the status of the miners. They do not know if they are alive or they do not know if they are dead. They believe they are about 10,000 feet in this mine but only about 276 feet below ground level but very deep in the mine.

Now, early in the day they were able to -- a team went in and they got to about 9,000 feet inside that mine. That's as far as they could go though. They said they saw a wall of debris and there was heavy smoke and they couldn't go any further.

There have now been two rescue teams sent in. The farthest team has gotten about 1,500 feet into the mine and they are making very slow, very deliberate steady progress. They believe they are going to have no trouble getting to that 9,000 feet mark, though at this point a company spokesman who does not want to go too far down the road of speculation says that they are moving very slowly, very deliberately.

They go by very different rules, this rescue team does and the team that went in earlier this morning. This rescue team has to stay in constant communication and they constantly are checking the air quality of the mine every few feet that they go, so they've made it about 1,500 feet or so. They have a long way to go.

They think, as I said, the miners are about 10,000 feet but, again, do not think about this as 10,000 feet below the ground level. This is a mine, one of the company spokesman likened it to just driving into the side of a mountain just driving through a long tunnel. There is some slight gradient going down and that's why they're about 276 feet below.

So, they're hoping the fact that they are relatively close to the surface that they will be able to drill and get some sort of either drop a mike down, get some sort of communication. They have not had any communication with these 13 miners since this explosion at approximately 7:55 a.m. this morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We heard just a little while ago, Anderson, from Roger Nicholson, who is the general counsel and a vice president at ICG of the International Coal Group that owns and operates this specific mine. Listen to what he said about the drilling operation that is now beginning.


ROGER NICHOLSON, GENERAL COUNSEL FOR MINE OWNER INTL. COAL GROUP: As of 6:23 p.m. the first team was 1,000 feet into the mine where carbon monoxide and methane levels were in the normal range. The second team has thus far made it in also about 1,000 feet, so the other -- the first team would at least be at least 500 feet beyond that by this time. That's the status of the mine rescue teams.


BLITZER: This drilling though he went on to say, Anderson, could take what four, five, six hours for the drill to reach this area about 270 feet below the surface?

COOPER: That's right. They are going very slowly and very deliberately. I mean time is of the essence and they are well aware of that but it's also a very sensitive situation. They don't know the exact conditions down there, as you heard the company spokesman just saying. They don't believe the air quality there is too bad but they have to be very careful.

If you remember back to July of 2002, the Quecreek Mine, remember it was a drill which really saved the lives of those miners who were trapped by bringing in fresh air, bringing in warm air and they were able to exactly pinpoint where the miners were and send the drill to the exact right spot. Some of that was just good old-fashioned luck.

They are hoping that their luck holds in this mine. The difference between this mine incident and the Quecreek Mine, the Quecreek mine involved water, if you'll remember, Wolf. The miners down there tapped into a mine that was filled with water and the water came flooding into their mine.

This one they don't know the cause of the explosion at this point but they don't believe water is a main factor here. At that same press conference that we just listened to, one of the company spokesmen was saying that water may be a nuisance that sometimes in this mine you do get water but it is not a flood situation. That should not be a main danger right here. The question is what happened to these miners when that explosion occurred? Where exactly were they? They could have been in the carts that actually bring them deep into the mine. Ten thousand feet is about the end of this mine, so they were about -- that's about the furthest this mine goes, can't go any further and they were just coming in, in the morning shift.

You remember, Wolf, this is the first shift that has been into this mine since it's been idle over the holiday weekend, so the explosion occurred about 7:55 and some of the miners who got out were in those last carts going in. They said they felt the explosion. They heard the explosion but they couldn't see what happened to the miners who went in ahead of them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That incident in July, 2002 so many of our viewers will remember it, Anderson, nine trapped miners in Somerset, Pennsylvania. They were trapped for some 77 hours or so and it was exhilarating to see them lifted one at a time from that hole in that mine. Let's hope the same kind of successful rescue operation happens this time.

There's lots of speculation, Anderson, that the lightning, the weather was pretty severe early this morning. That could have played a role in this explosion. What are you hearing?

COOPER: Yes, absolutely, and some people have been saying that. Again, at this point, they simply don't know. They're not even able to even, you know, tell what the condition of the air is whether there's a lot of carbon monoxide down there, whether there's methane down there. They simply don't know the air quality at this point and they don't even have any communication.

So, again, drilling that hole will help them and perhaps they might even be able to test the air down there. But, again, the communication is the most important thing. Are these miners alive or are they not? That is the question. At this hour, they still don't know some 12-plus hours since this explosion occurred.

And I got to tell you, Wolf, this is a very isolated area. It took us -- it's about 130 miles drive from Pittsburgh. It's a very eerie scene here. I mean it is pitch black all around us. I don't know, you probably can't even see behind me is sort of the processing area of the mine where the coal actually comes up. It's loaded into chutes and then dropped down where trucks pick it up, put it on rail cars.

The actual entrance to this mine is further down this road. Media, of course, is not being allowed into that area but about a mile in the other direction are where family members have gathered. We've been seeing some of them on the various programs on CNN over the last couple hours.

It is just such a sad sight. You drive by there. They are huddled in blankets, in some cases sitting under just a tent just waiting, desperate for any information. And you drive through the nearby town and there are a few signs out "pray for the miners. Pray for their families." And the eeriest thing is you drive by people's homes and you see whole families gathered in their living rooms. As we were coming here, I saw this just driving by people's houses, whole families gathered in their living rooms, gathered around a television watching on CNN, trying to get any information they can. This is a town which is standing still waiting and watching and hoping and praying -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to be speaking with relatives of some of those trapped men, 13 trapped men in that mine, coming up later this hour here on LARRY KING LIVE. We're also going to be speaking with Gene Kitts from the Mining Group. He's standing by as well; the former governor of Pennsylvania who was in charge of that successful rescue operation back in 2002 and we'll speak with one of the miners who was saved at that time, lots more coming up here on LARRY KING LIVE.


NICHOLSON: We have just confirmed that the first mine rescue team has entered underground. It is a team of eight members. It is from the (INAUDIBLE). We can also confirm the crew that is trapped underground.

It is the day shift second left crew, which has 12 production members, plus there is one belt examiner that our rescue efforts are focused on. We are not releasing the names of those individuals. We have contacted the immediate family of each of those members and they are the focus of our rescue efforts. One other development is that we have mobilized a drill unit for drilling of an air quality monitoring hole at the site.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tell us what you're thinking at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're just doing a lot of praying and trying to think positive and hope that they're all OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is they day after New Year's, certainly not how you guys wanted to start this year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right and it's getting dark out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you hopeful at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes in a way I am, trying to be, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, obviously at this point all you can do is be together as a family and that support and what would you want him to know? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That all of his family is here. We're all together and we're praying for him and we're here for him. We're waiting for him to come out.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in tonight for Larry.

We're watching this heart-wrenching story developing right now in West Virginia, 13 coal miners trapped about two miles from the entrance of a mine, about 270 feet below the surface of the earth.

Let's bring in Ronald Hileman. He's a coal miner who himself was rescued back in July of 2002 in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Ronald Hileman, you were trapped together with your other fellow coal miners what for 77 hours before you were so dramatically rescued. What was it like during those 77 hours?

RONALD HILEMAN, MINER RESCUED AFTER 77 HOURS IN PA MINE (by telephone): It was a feeling of helplessness and just worrying about trying to get out, you know, hoping that they, the rescuers done their job which they did.

BLITZER: Give us a little feeling, Ron, what the 13 coal miners in West Virginia might be experiencing right now.

HILEMAN: Their situation is a little different than ours. Ours was water. Theirs is what was due to an explosion. Now I don't know exactly what kind. I don't know if it was a methane or what. But their situation is a little bit different than ours but it was just trying to stick together and help each other out and hope for the best.

BLITZER: How cold does it get underneath the surface in those mines where the opening in effect has been closed, has been shut down?

HILEMAN: It averages around the mid 40s down in there.

BLITZER: How do they train coal miners to survive these incidents?

HILEMAN: Well, we have annual refreshers to go over different situations just like this but nothing prepares you for it exactly until you're there.

BLITZER: And your condition was that where the water was rising. In this particular incident there's a fear of gas. Explain a little bit more which is more dangerous, a more dangerous environment.

HILEMAN: Well, they're both very dangerous. Ours was rising water like you said. Now theirs is due to carbon monoxide, due to burning but one is as dangerous as the other really. There's no difference between them.

BLITZER: And there's -- but clearly you need air to survive. HILEMAN: Exactly, yes.

BLITZER: Do they have the kind of oxygen masks or other equipment that would allow them to survive?

HILEMAN: Yes. They carry breathing apparatuses that last, you know, a few hours. Hopefully they can get to some fresh air, you know, within those two hours and that can sustain them, you know, to stay alive.

BLITZER: Because what I've read is that there are catacombs, there are pockets in these mineshafts where you might be able to get air and, if you find a location like that, presumably you could survive for a few days.

HILEMAN: Yes, that's correct. That's correct. And they -- miners are a tough breed. They know what they're doing down there. Like I said, hopefully they found one of those pockets that they can stay in.

BLITZER: When did you establish contact with the rescue teams? You spent 77 hours stuck in that mine. At what point did you signal? Were you able to signal that there was life?

HILEMAN: After they drilled the six-inch airshaft for us that was probably into about the second day. They drilled a six-inch airshaft down through and then we tapped on it and it echoed up the pipe and then they knew that we was alive.

BLITZER: How did you know that that shaft was in effect what turned out to be your survival?

HILEMAN: Well, we knew we needed air at the time. I mean we was running out of air down there and when that come through, I mean you could hear the air. It was quite loud underneath there.

BLITZER: So, at that point you started tapping and they could hear noise. Because so far based on all the accounts that we're getting from the authorities, the rescue workers on the scene, they haven't heard any sound, any communication with these 13 trapped miners.

HILEMAN: Right. Hopefully they're starting their drilling here soon. Once they get that shaft down hopefully they will hear some communication from the trapped miners.

BLITZER: What has happened in your life, Ronald, since you were rescued back in July of 2002?

HILEMAN: Life's been completely different. You take one day at a time. You appreciate a lot more things than what you did before what you took for granted.

BLITZER: Are you still a coal miner?

HILEMAN: No, I haven't. I have retired since. BLITZER: What makes someone in West Virginia or Pennsylvania or Wyoming or someplace else want to do this so dangerous kind of work?

HILEMAN: Like they said before due to the economy most of it is money. The money -- it's good pay. It's dangerous work but it's good pay.

BLITZER: Well, we're glad you're alive. We're glad that your other fellow coal miners in Pennsylvania survived. Let's hope a similar happy ending occurs in West Virginia right now. We're going to stay on top of this story. Ronald Hileman, thanks very much for spending some time with us here on LARRY KING LIVE.

We'll take another break, much more of our special coverage coming up. Let's listen though, first, as we go to break to the sister of one of the miners trapped in West Virginia.


BLITZER: What's the mood with the other family members and friends who have gathered with you?

LILA MUNCY, UPSHUR COUNTY, WEST VIRGINIA: Everybody is just distraught. I mean they're upset. They're just distraught.

BLITZER: Has anyone shared with you an explanation of what happened?

MUNCY: Not specifically. There was some kind of explosion that had happened about 6:30 this morning and, of course, no one was notified until about ten o'clock this morning.

BLITZER: What was the first notification that you received?

MUNCY: Well, unfortunately I didn't find out until I saw on the news and I sure enough called my mother and she said, yes that, you know, Randy is trapped in the mine.

BLITZER: How's your mother holding up?

MUNCY: She's trying to be strong for everyone right now, you know.



BLITZER: Welcome back. We're watching this developing story in West Virginia, 13 coal miners trapped about two miles, just less than two miles from the entrance of a mineshaft, about 270 feet below the surface.

Anderson Cooper is there for us. Anderson, the whole notion of these family members who have gathered at this church nearby, brothers, sisters, wives, a lot of friends, it must be so sad. Can you give us a little flavor of the mood? COOPER: It's incredibly sad. I mean, you know, we've just celebrated the holidays, of course, and actually mine safety -- I mean mines have never been safer. The number of fatalities in 2005, everyone in the coal mining community was kind of celebrating that they got through 2005 with the least amount of fatalities they've ever had in the history of coal mining in the United States of America.

Back in 1978 there were some 220 or so miners who were killed. Back in 2003, I think the figure was around 22 or 23. So, really the safety record has really improved. None of that, of course, matters right now for the families of these 13 men who are sitting about a mile from where I am by this church.

And when I drove by, some of them, as I said before, were huddled under blankets underneath a white tent just sitting out in the open air, you know, drinking coffee, just trying to comfort one another. I mean there's just no -- there's no information and that's really one of the hardest things I think probably for these families to deal with.

You know the mine, the representatives from the mining companies are briefing the families separately and they told us they're being as honest as they can. They're not going down the road of speculation but they frankly don't have any information of whether these miners are alive or not. They've had no communication with these miners and that's the most, you know, that's one of the biggest things they're trying to establish right now.

We were told that around nine o'clock East Coast time, so about 20, 25 minutes ago that they were to begin drilling, so we can assume that that has already begun but that is a very slow process. They have to drill down some 270 feet both to give them air and to give them communication devices.

And, I mean all the families here know, I mean look this is an incredibly dangerous occupation but this is sort of the nightmare scenario and, as darkness comes, it is so eerie and so strange here and you feel so alone and isolated. There are a lot of people just trying to pull together this whole town really trying to pull together to support the families that are out there.

The police have cordoned off the area so no one who is not a part of the media or part of the rescue effort or one of the families can get into this area anymore. But everyone here is just trying to pull together, especially for these families because everyone knows just that wait is agonizing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson is going to be with us here on LARRY KING LIVE throughout the hour and then at the top of the hour Anderson Cooper 360, he'll continue our coverage.

Mark Radomsky is director of field services, miner training program at Penn State University, the department of -- Department of Energy and Geo-environmental Engineering, Mark, thanks very much for joining us. You've heard all of the details of what we know about these 13 trapped miners. Tell us what you think. MARK RADOMSKY, DIR. FIELD SERVICES, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, it's a very similar situation to Quecreek that seems to be unfolding, although the point's been made about inundation of water as opposed to the ignition. So, we have to remain hopeful and, you know, hopefully it will -- it will turn out like Quecreek when we had nine for nine, a perfect success.

BLITZER: That was a great success. I know you were involved in that and you've learned the lessons from that successful rescue operation but there is a significant difference. At that time, those miners were facing rising water in that shaft. In this particular case, there's gas. There potentially is deadly gas. How do you deal with that?

RADOMSKY: Well, Wolf, you have to monitor it and then you have to try to ventilate the mine and get that atmosphere to acceptable levels in terms of being able to breathe it and also in terms of the explosability (ph) threat.

BLITZER: Governor Mark Schweiker is the former governor of Pennsylvania. He was in charge. He oversaw that successful operation in July of 2002. Governor Schweiker, what goes through your mind watching this dramatic heart-wrenching story unfold in West Virginia?

MARK SCHWEIKER, FORMER PA GOVERNOR: Well, exactly that Blitz. It is gut-wrenching and for the families and the loved ones the prayers and each other are all they've got until they're given insight and communication and I'm hopeful that soon they will begin to -- whether there are developments or not, this was my experience, they want regular visits from either the governor's folks or from the company itself as to where things stand.

So, I think that is overarching. I think the other important standard that the governor's team can set is that when it comes to the rescuers everybody has got to do their best and the mentality is until we know otherwise this stays a rescue mission so let's stay at it.

BLITZER: Governor Schweiker stand by for a moment.

The Governor of West Virginia Joe Manchin is with us. He's joining us from the scene, governor thanks very much and our prayers are with you and everyone in West Virginia right now as we watch this story unfold. What is the latest that you can share with our viewers?

JOE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGINIA: Well, Wolf, our rescue teams are as we know leapfrogging. They're moving rapidly and we feel good about that and we're working very hard and our hopes are alive and well and our prayers and we believe in miracles in West Virginia and we're hoping to deliver one tonight.

BLITZER: We believe in miracles as well. Governor, from what I can tell, and correct me if I'm wrong, it looks like you're trying to get close to those 13 trapped miners by going directly into the tunnel into that shaft which is almost two miles long, as well as starting to drill down about 270 feet from the surface. It sounds like a dual- pronged rescue operation. MANCHIN: They're doing everything humanly possible and, you know, I'm from Farmington, the little town that in 1968 had 78 miners who we lost. My uncle was one of those and many of my friends who I went to school with and played ball with. So, I know the agony that the families are going through.

I've been spending time with them at the church and we have all of our clergy there working with them and we have hope. And, I mean the people are there and I haven't given up. They're not giving up.

And, like you say, it's still a rescue mission right now and when able to get back into a mine this quick after an explosion that's encouraging because that means the levels of air, the quality of air we have is safe enough for them to go in.

We've been in mines before where we couldn't go back for days, so that's encouraging and we're hoping with these experienced miners and the apparatuses they have if they can find good air and seal themselves in there and find a pocket of good air we'll be able to find them and that's what we're hoping for.

BLITZER: How are the family members holding up? You say you -- we know you cut short your visit to Atlanta. You were going to attend one of the bowl games there, the University of West Virginia playing. You've cut short that visit to come back to your home state to take charge. How are the family members dealing?

MANCHIN: The family members are doing very well. They're pulling together. West Virginia is a family. All of us are family and there's 1,800,000 of us and right now we're all pulling for each other. But in that church we have family, we have immediate family and extended family and they're all right there.

The support staff is coming in from all over the country. Those people are really gaining strength from each other. And, I can tell you they're going to be fine and we're, again we're praying for them. I wanted them to know that this state, this country is doing everything humanly possible.

We've had calls from the White House, calls from Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, and we've had calls from Illinois. Everybody is sending in their teams to help us. We appreciate that and we're doing all we can.

BLITZER: Ed Rendell is the governor of Pennsylvania and presumably it's not that far away. Where exactly are you located right now? You're sort of between Charleston, West Virginia and not far from Pittsburgh, right?

MANCHIN: No. We're probably about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh. We're south of Pittsburgh right now. Pennsylvania is -- in this area of our deep mining communities, Pennsylvania is very close to us.

It's basically our sister state and, you know, as Governor Schweiker was telling you that when they had their problems it was a drilling crew and a drilling rig, a lot of them from West Virginia that helped them. So, we're helping each other and that's what it's about.

BLITZER: What kind of safety record does this specific mine have?

MANCHIN: Well, you know, I've heard--I haven't gotten fully briefed on that. I don't know whether there's federal regulations or any violations on the state.

But right now our really attention is supporting the families and making sure our rescue teams have all the necessary equipment to advance as properly and as quickly as they can. We will do a total and thorough evaluation, and whatever has happened or whatever caused this to happen will be remedied. But right now our main concern is getting these miners out safe.

BLITZER: I know you're incredibly busy. I'll ask you one final question. Do we have any more specific information on what caused this explosion?

MANCHIN: Well, we know there was ignition, Wolf. There had to be ignition to cause this. When you go into the mines usually you have a fire boss that goes in before everybody else and checks the methane levels. That person was in there. And then the crew started in.

I spoke to one of the miners that was right behind, ten minutes behind when it happened. And we were speaking. And he told me, he says, Joe, I felt the blast. I felt the heat and everything. He says, and we were able to put on our apparatuses and find quality air so we could get back out. He says, I'm hoping the rest of them were able to do the same.

So we know there was some form of ignition that would cause this. I've heard everything and I'm sure you've heard everything from a lightning strike, but, you know, with the ground faults and the way these mines and the safety precautions, there was something else. And when you're firing up over an idle period of the holidays, firing this mine back up, and I can't speculate other than that, but it had to be some sort of ignition.

BLITZER: Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia, our hopes and our prayers are with you and everyone on the scene in West Virginia. And we thank you very much. And the answer is yes, we do believe in miracles. We'll be watching this story unfold. Let's pray for a happy ending.

MANCHIN: Well, the prayers are what we need right now. And we thank America because we know they're with us tonight.

BLITZER: They certainly are. People all over the world are watching. Governor, thank you very much for spending a few moments with us.

MANCHIN: Thank you. BLITZER: We'll continue to check back with you. We'll take another quick break. Much more of our special coverage of this extraordinary and heart wrenching development in West Virginia.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry tonight. We're watching this developing story in West Virginia. Thirteen coal miners trapped. A major search and rescue operation has now started. We're watching all the developments.

Johna Radabaugh is joining us now via video phone. Johna's uncle is trapped, one of those 13 coal miners. What's your uncle's name, Johna?


BLITZER: Kerry Holmes?

RADABAUGH: Yes, Terry Holmes.

BLITZER: Terry, all right. Well, tell us a little bit about Terry.

RADABAUGH: He's a great guy. He's my neighbor. He's always done things with us whenever we were growing up. And he's kind hearted. And he knows no strangers. He always talks to everybody. And I'm sure, hopefully down there he's filling their ears up and keeping them entertained until they get home.

BLITZER: How old of a man approximately is he, do you know?

RADABAUGH: My uncle's 50. He just turned 50.

BLITZER: He just turned 50. So he's been a coal miner for a long time, is that right?

RADABAUGH: Yes. Over 30 years.

BLITZER: Is he married? Does he have kids?

RADABAUGH: He has a girlfriend and he has a daughter and a son.

BLITZER: Are they there with you? Have you spoken to them?

RADABAUGH: Yes. Amber, his daughter, she's been with us. She's holding herself up like a trooper. And Nicholas, he's driving in from the Carolinas. So he should be here in about a couple hours.

BLITZER: What's the general feeling there? Are you all gathered at the church? You're consoling. You're comforting each other during these very, very difficult minutes?

RADABAUGH: Yes. Everybody's over at the church. But we kind of come down at the intersection where the trucks are and just kind of wait and see if they bring anybody out or, you know, if we hear anything. And they have, when we go up there, a nice prayer and stuff.

And the governor spoke to us. And, you know, put a little hope back in everything. We're just down here and keeping each other, you know, just loving on each other and hoping things go great.

BLITZER: This is really a coal mining community where you are right now. Lots of coal miners. They work in these dangerous jobs because it pays relatively well, is that right?

RADABAUGH: Yes. My dad's a coal miner. And my uncle is a coal miner. My granddad was a coal miner. His granddad was a coal miner. My cousin's husband is a coal miner. It's just what they do.

BLITZER: So how do you cope every day knowing your father or another loved one or good family friend is going to go several thousand feet into the ground to work in these coal mines knowing how dangerous this is?

RADABAUGH: I think my dad and my uncle, they just, you know, they know what's going on, what to do. All about safety. They really stress safety a lot.

And so I mean, I don't know what happened today, but I never really worry about my dad too much. Because I think God's taking care of him. And he's a great coal miner. I mean, he's done it for almost 40 years. And I just think God takes care of him. And he does an awesome job. And everybody looks up to him and stuff. Everybody looks up to my uncle. And he does a great job.

And, you know, I just didn't ever worry about it. I think you can't worry about it. Because if you did, you know, you just can't live that way.

BLITZER: That would be no way to live. And your dad is still a coal miner, is that right?

RADABAUGH: Yes. He's a coal miner.

BLITZER: Well, Wish him our best. Give everyone our best. And we're praying for your uncle Terry who is trapped underneath there with 12 other men. This rescue operation is now moving along. And we're hoping and praying for the best, Johna, thank you very much.

RADABAUGH: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: We'll continue our coverage right after this.


GENE KITTS, MINE OWNER INTL. COAL GROUP'S SENIOR V.P. FOR MINING SERVICES: It's dark. It's roughly 55 degrees. And the height is somewhere in the five to five and a half feet. It's not, you know, a really low coal seam. The working conditions should be relatively good for the mine rescue teams.



BLITZER: Anderson Cooper is on the scene in West Virginia for us. This drilling operation, Anderson, was supposed to start, what, about 40 minutes or so ago. Do we know whether those drills are actually moving into the earth?

COOPER: We don't know at this point. We anticipate getting another press conference, another briefing, in about another 45 minutes. At 10:30 we'll bring that to you live during "360." But there's a lot of hope.

All the hope is pinned on that drilling operation. They have to drill down 270 or so feet, bringing both fresh air to where they believe the miners are, but also communication, the possibility of finally learning whether or not these miners are alive. We don't know the status of the operation, Wolf, but that is where everyone's hope is lying.

BLITZER: Do the rescue teams have a fairly good sense, approximately, where these 13 men are trapped?

COOPER: They think they have a general sense of it. They don't know the exact spot of where these people were when the explosion occurred, but they think it's about 10,000 feet into this mine. That's pretty much the end of this mine. That's about as far as it goes.

But that's where they're pretty sure. But of the exact spot, they're not sure where all 13 of them are, no.

BLITZER: I take it, Anderson, at the bottom -- once they've drilled down and they've gone what, 260, 270 feet, they're going to drop some very sophisticated microphones down there to see if they can pick up some sounds from these trapped miners, is that right?

COOPER: Yes. That's one thing. Although as you heard from the miner who was rescued during the Cue Creek mine, who you spoke to a short time ago, when that drill came in, that six inch drill which brought in fresh air, saving the lives of those miners, they started tapping on that drill. And the tapping reverberated up the shaft. And that's how people on the ground knew that the miners were alive.

So once that drill was in, I mean, it can be something as simple as tapping on the drill as a form of communication, but yes, they have sensitive equipment they can put in through the drill to try to talk to or at least hear from the miners themselves.

BLITZER: I know you have to get ready for "360," Anderson. But you drove in to this area. Did you drive in from Pittsburgh? Set the scene for us, this community, what it's like.

COOPER: It is a very isolated community. We're about 130 miles' drive from Pittsburgh through winding roads these last 20 or so miles. You see houses on the side of the hill. You can see families inside, as I said earlier, gather around the television set all watching the news, all waiting for word.

Some signs have already gone up in the nearby town saying pray for the miners, pray for their families. But this really is a mining community. This is not a big city, a big town, by any means. This coal mining is what the people in this community do. It's what they've done for a long time.

And so while they are certainly not used to something like this happening, it is the fear that they live with every day when they send their loved once off to these mines.

BLITZER: You'll have a lot more on this on "360" at the top of the hour for two hours, is that right, Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, we'll be on for two hour, then we'll be doing updates all night long depending on the situation. We're staying with this story as long as it takes.

BLITZER: We'll be watching this story together with you. We'll take another quick break. Much more of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: This is the latest video that we just received in from CNN. The rescue operation now under way. Rescue workers are there. Family members are struggling right now to learn of the fate of their 13 relatives, 13 miners trapped inside a mine.

The story developed around 6:30 a.m. this morning. Some sort of explosion. Unclear what that was. Some speculation that lightning, others saying that probably was not the cause. But they're investigating.

Rescue teams on the scene right now. Jim Spears is the Secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety for the state of West Virginia. He's joining us. Jim, give us your expert opinion, can these 13 miners now with what, more than 14, 15 hours after the explosion, can they survive?

JIM SPEARS, WEST VIRGINIA HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well, of course, we don't want to give up hope and say no, they can't or yes, they can. We believe that we need to do anything we can to make sure that we get to them as quickly as possible. Whatever their condition is, we want to make sure that we hurry our rescue efforts up and get to them as quickly as we can.

BLITZER: Has the drilling begun to drill a hole what, some 270 feet into the ground, to try to get some fresh air down there, to establish contact with the 13 trapped miners?

SPEARS: Right. The drilling is going to take place whenever they deem it to be safe. However, we have to keep in mind that the drilling operation that's going to occur is really going to occur so that we can monitor the atmospherics of the air coming out of the mine shaft.

The reason for that is we need to make sure that it's safe for our rescue efforts to continue. So we're going to continue to drill that when we believe that it is safe. And once that hole is drilled, then we'll also be able to sink some communications equipment down there.

But its primary purpose is to test atmospherics.

BLITZER: Do you have any new information on the cause of this explosion.

SPEARS: No. As everyone has said, right now we're really focused on trying to get to the people involved. Our hearts really are going out to the families, and we want to do everything that we possibly can to get there. We're going to do whatever steps we can in the investigation that's going to take place, naturally in the after- action of what has occurred so that we know what has happened. But right now, we're really focused on getting to the people that are trapped.

BLITZER: Is your agency in charge of this search and rescue operation?

SPEARS: Really, this is a coordinated effort. We're working in concert with the federal level. We're working in concert with the coal company officials themselves. As you know, whenever you have an incident like this, no man is an island and we all have to work together on this. Even though it is a private coal company, we are going to do whatever the state can do in order to bring our state assets to bear on this.

BLITZER: Are you getting the equipment, the expertise, the manpower assistance from the federal government that you need?

SPEARS: You know, as the governor pointed out, we've been getting calls from all across the United States offering assistance. Yes, we've had a federal inspector on site. As a matter of fact, we've got a federal inspector as part of the rescue team that's going down there. We've got a state inspector as part of the rescue teams that are going down there. And so we're working in close coordination and cooperation both federal level, state level and also with the private company.

BLITZER: Your bottom-line assessment right now, Jim, as you watch, what specific indicators are you looking at right now?

SPEARS: What we're trying to do is, we're trying to get to the people. And as you all know, this is a very slow process. Right when I left the operations center just a few minutes ago, there were about the 3,000-to-4,000 point in their advance into the mine shaft. It's a slow process and that's not really a gauge as to how fast we can go in the future because you never know what obstacles one might come up to.

But as they continue to progress, we're in constant communications with those rescue teams. And they're sending us reports back. And it's going to be a long time, several hours, before they can make it further to the point where the incident occurred. And it's at that point where we will have the better idea and better understanding of what actually occurred and the situation in the shaft.

BLITZER: Our prayers are with you and everyone in West Virginia right now. Jim Spears, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck.

SPEARS: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll take another quick break. We'll continue our coverage after this short break. We want to leave you though, before we go to break, with more of my interview earlier with Lila Muncy, whose brother is trapped inside that mine.


BLITZER: Why did he decide to become a coal miner?

LILA MUNCY, BROTHER TRAPPED IN MINES: The money basically. You know, it's better money, and in West Virginia, you know there's not that many opportunities around here. And he felt that was the way to go right now. He was always very cautious, you know, and every -- you know, every morning he would tell his wife, God bless you, before he left to work because he always knew the danger.

BLITZER: Tell us a little bit about your other family members, the people who have gathered. Are you near the church there in West Virginia near the mine?

MUNCY: Yes,, I'm near it, yes. There are several people here, several...

BLITZER: ... Go ahead, I interrupted but tell us about some of the other family members who have gathered with you. I assume this is a small close-knit community.

MUNCY: Yes, but there are several people here. I mean, there are several people here, family members just waiting to hear any inkling of any kind of -- you know, hope, you know, for them to get out.

BLITZER: Have they given you any information about the situation at the church? Have they come to you and offered you information? Who is talking to you?

MUNCY: We've been given a little bit of information, little bits here and there. You know, every couple of hours, nothing significant at this point that we've heard.

BLITZER: And the rescue workers have now gone in, so that much give you some hope.

MUNCY: Yes, definitely.


BLITZER: Vicki Smith is a writer for the "Associated Press." She's on the scene. We've been reading her dispatches all day. What's the latest information you have, Vicki?

VICKI SMITH, REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, the families are kind of alternating between fear and anxiety and hopefulness. I know that they got a boost from seeing the governor earlier this evening. That really encouraged them. He told them that he still believes in miracles and that we may have one here tonight. And that's certainly what they're all hoping for.

BLITZER: How many people -- how many family members and friends have gathered at that church?

SMITH: There are probably about 250 people who are either friends, family or co-workers. There are miners from other mines in this family that are here. They're just kind of all waiting for any news they can get. It is coming in slowly. And they're turning to each other for support in the meantime.

BLITZER: Do you have a sense, Vicki, that you're getting as a reporter on the scene, the latest information from the authorities whether from the coal mine company, the local authorities, state, federal authorities who are on the scene? Are they sharing the necessary information with you?

SMITH: Yes. I would say that they are. I mean, in this kind of a situation, facts are slow to come. And we certainly understand that. But they've been very forthcoming in answering our questions. There are a lot of reporters here who are familiar with the mining industry.

It's a big part of our economy here. So we know what questions to ask. And they're not evading those questions. They're answering them as well as they can. A lot of them, they just simply are unable to answer until they find out what condition these miners are in, exactly where they are. And how they're going to go good getting to them.

BLITZER: Governor Mark Schweiker is the former governor of Pennsylvania, he was in charge of that successful operation back in July 2002 in Somerset, Pennsylvania. You've lived through this. Give us some final words, Governor, on what the people of West Virginia are going through right now because you've gone through it.

SCHWEIKER: I think Vicki just nailed it. Alternating between the fear and then the importance of hopefulness. And I do believe that the executive's presence -- presence of Governor Manchin means a lot, as he said. You've got to believe in miracles, because at this point, unless you've got eyewitness accounts, down below, you've got to go with providence and prayers and just the hard work of the rescue teams.

BLITZER: Do you have a sense, Governor, and we're almost out of time -- that they need more help from the federal government?

SCHWEIKER: Well, the federal government, it certainly has some unique and sophisticated equipment. And I'm assuming that it's either there or soon to be there because the folks from the Department of Labor, they are extremely talented and committed and they could be a tremendous resource, as they were to us in 2002 in Somerset.

BLITZER: Governor Schweiker, thanks very much. And we'll check back with you. Let's hope that there's a similarly happy ending to this current situation in West Virginia, 13 miners trapped. I'm Wolf Blitzer, sitting in for Larry King. Anderson Cooper is getting ready to pick up our coverage. He's on the scene for us right now -- Anderson.


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