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ICG Press Conference

Aired January 3, 2006 - 01:30   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are coming to live from Upshur County in West Virginia. We are anticipating any moment now a news conference by the management company in charge of this mine, ICG, International Coal Group, the company which bought this mine recently out of a bankruptcy proceeding, and is attempting to revitalize it. This is the situation as it exists now, a little past 1:30 a.m. in the morning. Thirteen miners still trapped underneath the ground, some 270 feet or so beneath the surface of the ground. They are trapped about 10,000 feet inside this mine, about a two-mile distance. At last count, rescue workers were leapfrogging -- two teams of rescue workers were working in shifts, were leapfrogging into the mine. They had gotten about 5,000 feet, but that was about two hours ago, the number we were given. At this press conference, we anticipate hearing exactly how far further into the mine they have been able to push.
It all really at this point rests on those rescue workers. How quickly they're able to get to the miners who are trapped. Now, we do not know the status of the miners at all. There has been no communication from them, no banging on the walls, or banging on pipes or anything. The radios are not working that they are equipped with, nor any of the communication devices which are stationed in this mine. So at this point no one knows the status of the miners.

Nor is it known the status of the air quality of where the miners are. As I said, they're about 10,000 feet in. There were high doses of carbon monoxide discovered earlier in the evening -- or I should say earlier this day, but at this point the rescue teams have been able to push about 5,000 feet in, which is about half the distance they need to. And all along the way, they are checking the air quality and they are maintaining communications with the team that has set up right outside the mine.

Now, the miners themselves have breathing devices that they carry with them. They're only good though for only about an hour's worth of oxygen.

I want to show you from a press conference earlier what those breathing devices look like and how they're used. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Thank you, Johnny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's that simple. Every man carries that underground.



COOPER: Well, that is the breathing device that each miner is equipped with. And if they were not in some way injured in the explosion; theoretically, they would have been able to put on those devices.

Again, it is simply not known the status of these miners. It is not known if they are alive. It is not know if they are dead. That breathing device only works for about an hour. It can only provide pure oxygen -- the oxygen in the air, for one hour. It has been, well it's been well over 12 hours at this point. It's been about 15 or 16 hours since these miners went down into that hole and were last heard from.

The hope is (inaudible) missed the explosion, they missed the blast, and have been able to get to some air pocket down inside that mine. But again, it is simply not known if that is the case.

During the Quecreek Mine incident back in July 2002, the miners were able to find some breathable air; but in that mine, the problem was water, continuing water arising.

I just see -- looking off the camera, because I just see some of the officials from the management company arriving for this press conference, so the press conference should be starting in about a minute or two, as they make their way. They have to go about 100 feet or so from where I am standing.

Just to give you a sense of where I am. You can probably see some lights behind me. Those are part of the processing plants of this coal mine. The actual entrance to the mine that the miners entered this morning is about a mile or so up the road in that direction. Now in this direction, is where the miners' families are still sequestered. They are in a church with clergy members, with police and Red Cross officials. Sometimes they are inside the church. Some of them are sitting outside. I saw some earlier even bundled up in blankets underneath a white tent. There has been rain here throughout the day. There has not been rain here this night. But it is a very long night for those families who are waiting anxiously for any word at all. The families had a briefing at about midnight, East Coast Time. But this is the latest briefing that the media has been given. It's now about 20 of 2:00 and we, as I said, anticipate that press conference starting any minute.

The other key component in this rescue effort is the drilling operation -- a six-inch drill, with drilling down. It was supposed to start at 9:00 p.m. That's what they said. It didn't start at 9:00 p.m. Just getting this drill up there -- in fact, one of these drills is the same that was used in the Quecreek Mine incident. Just getting the drill up there has been difficult. There wasn't a road. They had to create a road. At 10:30 p.m., they were supposed to start drilling.

It's not confirmed exactly what time, but the governor of West Virginia came on our program a little bit earlier and did confirm that the drilling has begun. The hope on that drilling is that they will be able to pump some fresh air down into the mine. Also, they'll be able to test the air quality in the area where they believe the miners are. And thirdly, they will be able to put some communication devices down through the drill.

Let's take a look at the press conference now. It's just starting off. Let's listen.


ROGER NICHOLSON, GENERAL COUNSEL FOR ICG: This is Gene Kitts, who is the Senior V.P., Mining Services of International Coal Group. We don't have a whole lot to report in terms of information, except to state that the mine rescue teams have now progressed as of 1:18 a.m., to 7,800 feet from the portal. At that level of progress, we are still showing good air quality readings and no obstructions in the mine.

With respect to the drill rig, we have not made as much progress as we hoped and as well as what we reported to you last time. We anticipate beginning drilling within a half hour to forty-five minutes.

Gene Kitts, as you -- to help explain things to you. Obviously, we brought a mine map, which obviously won't translate well for the cameras, but hopefully we will be able to explain a little bit about where the mine rescue teams are and give you a little bit of a layout of the mine. And I will turn it over to Gene at this point.

GENE KITTS, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, ICG MINING SERVICES: Thank you, Roger. I'll start by pointing out that this area to the southwest corner of this map is where the mine portal is located. We have five openings, entries, into the mine. And as I've been describing, see, this is a series of tunnels with cross-cuts. The parallel tunnels are called the entries. These are called the cross- cuts. Roughly on 70-foot centers between the cross-cuts. What is in gray is an abandoned mine that's located adjacent to where we're working.

This abandoned mine was sealed off here. The mine drove to the east, and then this is all new development under Sago Number Two. As we've been referring to the first left section and the second left section, this would be the first left section. This is where a crew was located this morning when the power went off. These folks were able to exit the mine safely. This is the second left section. The drill hole that we're getting ready to start down shortly, is targeted for this location here. That's the end of the beltline. That is typically about where a crew would go to, park its man trip, to start its production shift.

This morning when air crews went underground at about 6:40 a.m., they reached 9,000 feet roughly, which would be the switch going up into the two left section. It was from that point they turned back and the mine rescue squads were called in.

This attempts to show the progress of the mine rescue teams. This is where they were at about 9:20 p.m. By 11:39 p.m., they were up to this point. Here is about 7,800 feet at 1:18 a.m. The atmosphere readings are good. Oxygen, 20.8 percent; carbon monoxide, two parts per million; and methane, at 0 percent. All that's very, very encouraging news.

We expect the mine rescue crews to continue to make good progress until they get up in this area and then we'll have to determine what the conditions are in the first left section before they can move past that to investigate the second left section.

Are there any questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you say again where 9,000 feet is.

KITTS: Okay, I have -- we've been working on some estimations of the distance from the mine portal to the various locations. I had our engineer measure the distance along the travel way, from the mine portal in to where the drill hole is being targeted. That distance is 12,950 feet. On to the extent of ninth (ph), would be roughly another 300 feet. It's 13,245 feet to where mining ceased last Saturday morning.

I have details on the drill hole itself. It's being put down here. This is a 6-1/4 inch diameter drill hole. We plan to do atmosphere monitoring through that hole. We're also contacting a firm that has a camera, that we'll be able to drop a camera down the hole so we can visually determine the conditions in the mine at that specific area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can one of you explain the cause of the delay drill, why it's taken so long to get that going?

NICHOLSON: I think it's incorrect to call it a delay. It's proceeding as we've planned.

KITTS: The question was, how to explain the delay in starting the drilling. This is an iterative process, where you have to locate where the hole should be drilled on the ground surface, bring in heavy equipment, bulldozers, and level out a pad. Then the surveyors come back and re-establish that point and in this case, when they re- established the point, it was not -- this pad wasn't large enough for the drill rig to set up in. So we had to do some additional grade work. So, the grade work has been done. The drill rig is currently being positioned. And we're drilling down 260 feet from a freshly constructed pad on the surface. It's critical that the start of this hole be done very accurately. So, that process means that a first 20 feet will be drilled, cased, then actually will be concreted. The drill will be set up to drill back through that as perfectly vertical as can be obtained. And then the drilling will proceed down to the coal scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gene, can you talk about some of the rudimentary tactics that are perhaps employed by miners when they are in a situation where perhaps the trap -- is there a tapping method that they can use, hoping that anybody that's listening might hear them when you get those microphones down to that point that you might be able to listen for?

KITTS: Yes. A miner is trained to try to communicate his position however possible. So, if there is anything, to a roof itself, a metal waterline, you know the track, if they have access to that, they should be intermittently tapping in an attempt to communicate. We're not in a position to monitor any of that type of communication yet. But once we get the drill hole down, there will be attempts to listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it the opinion, Gene, at the time this incident occurred, was before mining actually started. Was there any coal on the conveyer belt?

KITTS: There is no indication that mining had started at 6:31 when this incident occurred.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You mentioned the distance. Typically, how long does it take to get to that spot that you believe (inaudible)?

KITTS: On a normal day, we have track, so the men would be moving in on a battery-powered car on track, so it should be probably a 20-minute, 25-minute ride.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At a fairly slow pace?

KITTS: Yes, relatively slow. The mine rescue teams, the lead team is advancing on foot as we've described, being very cautious about taking the air measurements and so forth. The team that's backing them up is actually traveling on the battery-powered cars on the track. So, this gives us the advantage of being able to carry any supplies necessary to rebuild the ventilation controls and so forth. It can be carried in on a mechanized vehicle, rather than having to be carried. So, that development is a definite plus as we get into the area where these controls will have to be re-established.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What goes into figuring out where you drill in this sort of (inaudible)?

KITTS: As you'll see, if you get a chance to look at this map closer, this is a very accurate, very detailed surveyed map of the underground mine. And it's based on a coordinate system that can be translated to a survey on the surface. So, we simply picked the most reasonable spot where we thought we could get a good view of both of the atmospheric conditions underground and also a chance to listen for miners, or as this latest development has worked out, to drop a camera down and see what the conditions appear to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's the best guess you have of where they are? KITTS: It's not necessarily trying to guess where they are. We're trying to determine what the conditions that our mine rescue team can expect to encounter as they get closer. If it's close to where they are and we can establish contact, that's a definite plus. But, you know, we're -- with the progress being made by the mine rescue teams, advancing on foot, we think that is going to be an advantage to know what they can expect, but we think the mine rescue teams will easily get there before any type of drilling from the surface could accomplish that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking of communications, how are you going to relay this information to them if the phone system underground is out.

KITTS: The phone system is actually being re-established as the mine rescue teams advance. They're carrying a phone with them so they are reconnecting it to the cable and will be making repairs to that cable system that carries the phone signal as they advance. So it's a matter of going 500 feet, establishing communication, then going another 500 feet, and so on.


KITTS: The last count, they had divided into five-person teams, and we had 14 teams -- 14. We have 90 mine rescue folks here on site. And those five-person teams are being enjoined typically by one to three members from the regulatory agencies, whether it be a mine inspector or someone from some branch of MHSAT, or the Office of Mine Health Safety and Training. So the teams that are actually working underground are typically composed of six to eight people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And can you explain how they're rotated in. I mean, you said they've walked 7,000 feet approximately. I guess they have to walk back out that same thousand feet to go come back and forth to rotate?

KITTS: That's correct. Now, with the advantage of having rail re-established, where it's safe, it could be that we're sending teams in by rail to that backup team position. The lead team then can come back and get on the rail and leave. So it'll make switch out much easier, so long as we can use the track transportation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And is that occurring right now?

KITTS: Yes, that is. The rotation is underway and the backup team is using mechanized transportation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how long do they take inside again?

KITTS: They're on four-hour rotations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four-hour rotations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when they come back --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you expect the condition of the miners to be -- at this time do you have any expectations of the miners' condition?

KITTS: We're not going to speculate on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they come out, how long are they out before they go back in?

KITTS: That rotation is being determined. That schedule is being determined. So I really don't have good information on that. But the local authorities and state authorities have been very good to set up arrangement to house the mine rescue teams, to provide areas for them to bunk down and to get cleaned up and so forth. So they're staying in a close proximity to the mine. So we expect that to not be an issue in terms of keeping a full complement of mine rescue personnel underground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, Gene, I assume you're still making updates with the families on a regular basis. Could you talk about how they're holding up and how this is affecting you.

KITTS: We are doing updates for the families. Roger and I are working on a rotation, where we go to the mine site to get the most up-to-date information available. We go directly to the families at the church at Sago. We speak with them, answer their questions, then we come here for the media briefing. We don't want them to hear something on the media before we get a chance to tell them directly. And then we go back to the mine and start the rotation again.

The family members that are gathered are holding up pretty well under the circumstances. You know, they have a lot of questions. We have attempted to answer their questions as best we can. Many of them have very intimate knowledge of the mine itself. Some work there. So, we've tried to answer their questions in whatever detail they have requested. So, we think the, you know, the situation with the families is holding up pretty well. We've committed to making these briefings on a routine schedule until this situation is resolved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are they requesting? You said that you were giving them information that they were requesting. What questions are they asking?

KITTS: They have sometimes very specific questions. They've asked what type of stoppings will be used to replace those that are knocked down. And we had an answer for that. If anyone's curious it will be a metal stopping that can be unfolded into position, rather than laying up a block wall. So, that's a plus in terms of saving time. So it's questions, very specific to the mine, to the mining process, so we are trying to accommodate those questions.

There were questions earlier about the level of experience of the miners who are unaccounted for. We have put together information. Of the 13 unaccounted for miners, nine of them have plus 30 years experience. One has 20 years experience, one has five years mining experience, two have three years experience. So the average of the group is 23 years mining experience, with the vast majority of them being over 30 years. This is not a rookie crew underground. So, you know, we're just trusting that their training and their mining instincts have kicked in immediately and they've taken every step possible to put themselves out of harm's way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of stuff on the wires about the safety record of the mine. What are you all saying about it?

KITTS: We addressed that comment in our last briefing here. The safety record at this mine improved by roughly 80 percent from the second quarter of 2005 to the fourth quarter. We have been working closely with the regulatory agencies on various issues, such as supervisor training. We're working to improve the safety program across the board. We're instilling the notion that this is a continuous improvement process. So, we think we're making some advancement in the safety program.

You know, this mine was under other management up until about the middle of 2005. ICG and the previous owner merged officially as of November 21, 2005. So we're trying to implement new programs, new ways of thinking. So, I think the improvement in safety performance reflects that. This incident, until the rescue operation is complete, and the investigation is underway, we can't speculate on what caused it, but the 46 violations that are being cited were addressed. Obviously to the satisfaction of the regulatory agencies as they would continue to inspect until the violations were abated.

So it's a difficult position or it's a difficult question to address. But, you know, there was considerable progress being made in the safety performance here at this mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this mine closed for some time?

KITTS: It was closed for a period, I think, in 2002, but it's been in continuous operation I think since late '02.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the previous briefing you said that this mine was the first to see a lot of the improvements since you guys acquired, I guess, several mines at the same time, several pieces of property.

KITTS: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have fears about those other pieces of property tonight in light of the situation today?

KITTS: No. We don't think that what happened here is something that is the result of a mining practice or a procedure that was in use here. Again, we're not going to speculate. We use, you know, commonly accepted mining practices. It's not only good business but it's also a requirement of the regulatory agencies. There is a regulation for almost everything in the coal mining business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were they the first shift back after the holiday? Or did people work over the holiday?

KITTS: This was the first production shift back. There was the required fire bossing (ph) of both of these sections prior to the production crews going underground. There was an inspection of all the faces, methane readings taken and so forth, early this morning, before the crews went underground. But there had been no production activity underground since I think it was around 2:30 Saturday morning, when the mind shut down.

So it wasn't an extended holiday period. It was just a Saturday/Sunday weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second left section, is that a new part of the mine? How long has that been in operation? Does it have any new equipment or anything or is this one of the older sections?

KITTS: As we have assumed management of this mine, this company, we've replaced much of the equipment. I really couldn't say that this was old equipment or new equipment. It's just simply part of the mining process that we would develop sections off to the left and go out to the edge of the property and move up and do it again. So it's just an active part of the operating mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the rescue teams actually get to the point where the obstruction is, what will happen then? Do they have equipment with them? Do they have to wait for more equipment before they can start removing that obstruction?

KITTS: The mine rescue teams generally plot their strategy and what they intend to do on an incremental basis as they advance into the mine. It's almost every hundred feet, they stop and assess the situation and decide what to do next.

If they encounter any type of obstacles, the decision will be made at that point as to how to address that. Until they get to what is referred to as the two left switch, which would be located about here, we really don't think that they will encounter debris or obstructions.

We do not know what they will encounter, what they expect to encounter, as they go on to that two left section, so it depends on the situation. They could reestablish the ventilation controls and then be able to use equipment if the air readings are appropriate. Otherwise, it will be mostly manual labor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So your best guess then is that that is where the mishap occurred, in that two left switch area?

KITTS: We know that the four men that went underground at 6:40 a.m. to decide -- to try to find out what happened, why the power went off, made it to the two left switch. So whatever happened happened beyond that, within this last section of the mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's where the miners this morning were going to, right?

KITTS: That's correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has drilling actually started yet, or -- has drilling a fore-hole (ph) been actually started?

KITTS: It should be starting almost as we speak here. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've heard that they're drilling in another part of the county or another street or another area in the mine. Could you clarify that at all?

KITTS: There could be reports of drilling far away from the mine, but it will be roughly two miles away from the mine. It could be closer to another county road in an entirely different area. So we're not doing any drilling other than this hole here. You know, we have some contingency plans setup. There's two drill rigs on the property. There is one being held as a backup, in case there's a breakdown.

So, you know, the one hole should tell us the information we need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to be dealing with shale or sandstone or both?

KITTS: Should be both, just the typical Appalachian combination of shale and sandstone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long will it take, the drilling?

KITTS: Drilling is expected to take between four to six hours, once they get started. The variable is if the drill hole is wet and we have to do some additional casing work, it will take longer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the explosion occurred in that second left area, what's the -- can you draw in kind of, like, an epicenter, like an idea of how far that could be felt? It seems like it's awfully far, doesn't it?

KITTS: No. It's -- you know, we can't speculate on what triggered it, where it occurred, anything of that sort. That's something that after the rescue efforts are completed, the investigation should reveal that type of information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want to speculate about the condition of these mineworkers, but what would be most difficult for them?

KITTS: You know, if they followed their training and they went to the safest area they could find and built a barricade of ventilation material or bags of rock dust or block or whatever, I think the most difficult would be simply waiting for rescuers to get there, that -- you know, we will expect to be there quick enough so that food, water, those sort of issues, really probably will not come into play. So I think a miner barricaded waiting for help to arrive would be the most difficult issue that they would be facing, and we're just hopeful that that is the situation that we'll find.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the temperature? Is it very cold down there?

KITTS: Temperature underground is about 55 degrees year round. It's a very consistent environment. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there such a room, a place, to store water and things like that, in case of an event like this, that they can go to?

KITTS: They typically have cases of drinking water underground on the working section. You know, it depends on where the explosion occurred, where the men were and where they would be barricaded as to the availability of that material. They're trained not to leave the barricade until help arrives. They should not be out foraging for a bottle of water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Besides what miners carry themselves, is there oxygen strategically located in different parts of the mine, especially in this two left section of the mine?

KITTS: Not that I'm aware of. Typically the self-contained self-rescuer that the miner carries would be the extent of the oxygen generator, so to speak, on the section.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where on that map was the team that escaped when they made the turnaround?

KITTS: The one left section is here. Let's see, where they would have been planning to resume mining, down in this area. I'm not sure where they were when power went off this morning, but they were able to radio outside to report that they lost power and something happened in the mine, and at that point they were able to exit the mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then a separate team went up to check in and got stuck at the left turn, the second left? Is that right? A second group?

KITTS: Right. The mine superintendent, along with three of the regular mine staff, went in at that point, departing at about 6:40 a.m., and made it to the two left switch before the readings that they were getting on their monitors, their CO2 or their carbon monoxide monitors, convinced them that they weren't equipped to proceed any farther.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many members were in that first team that made it out? Were there four? The crew that, you know, radioed that there was a problem?

KITTS: I believe there were five...


KITTS: ... in that initial crew that came out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you been able to at least rule out some causes of this explosion as you get further in? Or is it still too early?

KITTS: It's too early to say. Again, this is a rescue effort. There will be time for investigation afterwards. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Worst case scenario of how long, how much oxygen, how long could they hold out under these conditions?

KITTS: Could you repeat the question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Worst case scenario, what would be the longest amount of time that they would have oxygen if they stay underground?

KITTS: I'm not going to speculate on that. It would be very dependent on so many factors that we really couldn't say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are they trained to survive? How long are they trained to survive?

KITTS: It depends on the situation. If -- well, there are so many variables. How quickly could they get barricaded, what was the quality of the air as they barricaded. So we really can't say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their battery packs for their lights, normally how long do they last?

KITTS: Probably in the range of 12 hours-plus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in this situation, would they -- one run and the rest of them conserve?

KITTS: I would expect that's what they would -- that's what they would do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So is the drilling in order to communicate with these people?

KITTS: The primary purpose of the drilling from the surface is to determine the atmosphere at the two left section, to determine if there's combustion gases present, just to give air mine rescue teams a foreknowledge of what to expect. Beyond that, we are making plans to drop a camera with a listening device down this fore-hole (ph) to take a look around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you go over in just a little more detail what those people who came out, all the details of what they told you other than their initial radio call? What they heard, their experiences?

KITTS: I don't have firsthand knowledge of what they have relayed to the regulators and to mine management. They -- from what I understand, they reporter a -- either a vibration or concussion, more or less concurrent with the power going off. So it was reported outside as that sort of incident, which was unusual enough to cause the mine superintendent to tell them to go ahead and evacuate the mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the range of the radios that they would have been using down there? Did you say they radioed out from the first section? KITTS: It was actually...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or is it hard-wired?

KITTS: There is a mine phone that is hard-wired. There is a, what's typically called a trolley phone on the manned trip, which is a type of radio. I can't answer the question as far as the range.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know what the range of the radios that they were using down there would be?

KITTS: I don't know that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When will we see you again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 4:00'ish, 4:30.

KITTS: Yes, let's say 4:30.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you gentlemen, appreciate it.


COOPER: Well, you've been listening to a news conference by the officials from ICG, the International Coal Group, the company which manages, which owns this mine. Some really fascinating information.

The headlines here: they do not yet know the status of these miners, that's the bottom line. They do not know if they are alive. They do not know if they have perished in that mine. They've had no communication at this point; 13 men still down 260-some feet below the surface of the ground, some 10,000 feet inside this mine.

The good news is that the rescue operations have made progress. It seems that they -- the rescuers are moving about 1,000 feet every hour. They are now, as of 1:18 a.m., about 10 minutes before that press conference began, they were at 7,800 feet. If they have continued to -- that was about an hour ago, they were at 7,800 feet. Once and assume that if they have continued to travel, they've made about another 1,000 feet.

Now, the significance of the distance is this: earlier this morning, after the explosion, four members of the mine crew walked down to 9,000 feet and that is as far as they could go before their air monitoring devices sounded an alarm about the presence of methane gases. So we know that it is possible to get to 9,000 feet.

The big question is what is the quality of the air at 9,000 feet now and beyond. We know the rescuers have gone to 7,800 feet. The air quality is good. They are able to breathe, and that is certainly a good sign. The question is, what are they going to find once they get to 9,000 feet and once they get to 10,000 feet, because the 9,000 marker is a key marker for these rescuers.

Now we've got some new video in just recently -- this is the first time we are seeing it -- of some of the rescuers actually entering in the mine. Let's play the tape and see what we see.

OK, this from APTN (ph). Now you see a number of miners walking into the entrance of the -- of the cave. They have breathing devices with them. They have lights as well. This is just one of the rescue shifts. As we have learned throughout the night, there are a number of rescue teams in operation, working basically around the clock. There are 14 five-man teams and there are two to three additional teams that they are holding in reserve. But 14 five-man teams, the two main teams doing this leapfrogging, walking step by step into this mine.

The lead team is going on foot, doing all of their work by hand. The follow-up team is actually taking a little trolley, a little battery-powered trolley and following up, and that allows them to bring in any equipment that they may need and anymore implements that they may need during the rescue operations.

So it seems that that leg of it is moving forward. The bad news is that as of 1:18, as of the start of that press conference, the drilling had not yet begun. We were told originally the drilling was going to be around 9:00 p.m. Then we were told it would be around 10:30 p.m. The fact that the drilling has not begun is certainly bad news. The explanation for that is that it has become much more complicated finding the exact spot to insert this 6-inch drill, 6-1/2- inch drill, and the spot that they had found, they found that there wasn't enough room to operate, so they had to actually not only create a road to the spot but also grade the area so they could get this large truck in with the drill.

So those are the headlines. The drilling has not yet begun. They hope it has already begun, but when the press conference had begun the drilling had not started yet, but the teams on the ground in the mine, that is where the hope now lies. They were at 7,800 feet at 1:18 a.m. It is far more likely that those people working with their hands, walking with their feet, they are the ones that are going to be able to get to this spot long before the drill ever is. The drill was to test the air quality and perhaps put some sound devices. The company, ICG, also now saying they're in contact with a company that has cameras, that can put those cameras down the drill, that can let them visually inspect the scene. But they are hoping that the teams on the ground are going to be able to get there first.

Those are the main headlines that came out of that press conference. We're going to take a short break and our coverage continues here on CNN.


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