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Remembering the Sago Miners

Aired January 15, 2006 - 21:00   ET


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight the 12 miners who died in the Sago Mine remembered at an emotional memorial service today. We'll talk with their families and friends. The reverend who conducted most of today's memorial and one miner who survived after escaping the deadly blast. Plus a special performance by a country star whose grandfathers worked in the West Virginia coal mines, Kathy Mattea. It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
And hello, everybody and welcome to a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE I'm Ted Rowlands. Larry has the night off tonight. Two weeks ago, an explosion rocked West Virginia and the nation, 13 miners were trapped two miles inside the Sago coal mine. After 41 agonizing hours only one made it out alive, Randall McCloy. His condition upgraded from critical to serious today. The same day the other miners were remembered by their community.

Joining us now from the site of that emotional service, Reverend Ed McDaniels who lead most of today's service.

Ron Grall, one of six miners who escaped after the explosion that morning and Jim Campbell whose brother-in-law died in the Sago mining disaster.

Reverend, let's start with you, give us a sense, if you would, about today's service. What was it like?

REV. ED MCDANIELS, HELPED CONDUCT SERVICE: I think it was very uplifting, very helpful. We set out with a desire to honor and to also give hope and do some healing and I really believe, Ted, we got that accomplished. I believe the families of the miners left our chapel today feeling better than the way they came. And that's certainly was our desire that would happen.

ROWLANDS: How specifically do you think you accomplished that?

MCDANIELS: We accomplished that, I think by highlighting the 13 miners. By sharing with them some of the things that could make them laugh, could also make them cry, to make it a light hearted event and to be able to leave there saying, yes, the lives were lived and they had a purpose. And I believe the families appreciated that. And it also gave an opportunity, for at least this state, to have a little bit more of a personal view of each one of these miners. Possibility up to this time they knew them by was just by a name. I wanted them to be remembered just a little bit more than just by a name, but also by a face and by a family and I think that's what we set out to accomplish and I believe we did that.

ROWLANDS: Ron Grall, you have lost a number of friends. What did you think of today's service?

RON GRALL, ONE OF SIX MINERS WHO ESCAPED: Well, I think it was really great the way they honored the dead miners, and it was just made me cry and made me laugh. It was really touching. I really liked it. I mean, they really did them guys proud. And I'm proud to be a coal miner.

ROWLANDS: What kind of an outpouring...


ROWLANDS: What kind of an outpouring have you received from not only that community from -- but from the country, as well?

GRALL: Well, yeah. Everybody's been really supportive and just -- just you can tell they really cared. I didn't know that many people cared until just a couple weeks ago.

ROWLANDS: Jim Campbell, you lost your brother-in-law, Marty Bennett. He said he loved being a coal miner. Today, at the service, did people there get a sense of Marty?

JIM CAMPBELL, LOST BROTHER-IN-LAW IN SAGO MINE: I think so. I think the service was good. And everyone that came was appreciated. The communities kind of came together and Marty did love being a coal miner. I think everyone that was in there loved being coal miner and they did it because they loved it and they did it to support their families. I don't think they would have wanted to do anything else.

ROWLANDS: Ron, why do coal miners say they love being a coal miner? It seems like such dangerous work. What is it that draws you into the mine, and then, keeps you there?

GRALL: Well, it's just something you like to do. It's not anymore dangerous than driving down interstate 70, 80 miles-per-hour. You do it every day. You just get used to the danger. I'm just proud, you know, to -- the work is hard and I just like to be underground. It's just something that gets into you from day one and you just know you are doing that the rest of your life. It's hard to explain. It's not what we do. It's what we are. We are a coal miner and we're proud of it.

ROWLANDS: Reverend today was said that there are no better men than coal miners. Why?

MCDANIELS: I think because they know the inherent danger that they have every time that they strap on the gear that they start down in that mine that they know that they're going from a safe environment to an environment that may not be so safe and they provide for us so many things that we take for granted, as I shared today. We walk into a room and we flip on a light, we don't take much thought to how that gets there, but we know that it's the coal miner that sacrifices so much to be able to provide for us the conveniences that we have, and I really do believe that there are just no better men or women who would be able to sacrifice as much as they do to be able to provide for us all that we have. And I'm certainly proud to be associated with and be a part of West Virginia and know that this is a coal mining state.

ROWLANDS: Vicki Smith is a reporter with the "Associated Press" who has covered this tragedy since the explosion, was with the family members at the Sago Baptist Church in those agonizing 41 hours.

Your impressions today, Vicki, of the memorial service?

VICKI SMITH, REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": I have to say it was a deeply moving service. It was as, Pastor McDaniels has told you, a time for people to laugh and cry and share a range of emotions. I think what was really special about it was a photo montage that showed these men as they were in life. And I think that was probably, for me, the most touching moment. I got to see these men holding their children, their grandchildren, their wives, their pets, being baptized, ready to go out hunting. You saw them as they were. You saw them as individuals and that was a very moving experience.

ROWLANDS: Reverend, the community, obviously, has been touched by this. Where is the community in terms of healing and how far yet to go is there and how did the memorial service help in that journey?

MCDANIELS: I think the memorial service helped our community to be able to, again, get little bit of closure. We have been inundated with sites on the television sets, people weeping, people crying, people hurting and I think our community needed to come together, not just this community, but these miners were just not from our little county called Upshur County, but they came from Barbara Count and Preston County and they were a part of Webster County and I think it was a good opportunity for us to be able to, again, to get a little handle on, to be able to touch to be able to get a sight and a vision of just who these men were and I had several people come by after the service to say, "Thank you, we needed to be able to have a little bit of closure." So for our community, I think, and the communities that surround us and maybe even the state as a whole, we got an opportunity to be able to say our goodbyes and say good about that.

Now, as families go, I think that there's still lots of ministering to be able to be done because now the families and the friends and phone calls and the things they've had for the last several days are going to be going back to their businesses and going back to their jobs, so it's a job now of the pastors to be able to check on and shepherded after their people, to be certain that they are well taken care of. I think there's some dark days or tough days that are still ahead for a lot of families members, but as far as our community, we wanted those family members to know that we loved them, we care for them, and we hurt with them. So we got that opportunity. So I think, Ted, we're on the road to recovery as a community, but still need to be much in prayer for the families.

ROWLANDS: All right. When we come back, we'll talk to Ron Grall about what it was like at the moment of the explosion. He was able to escape. We'll also talk more about the memorial service, the Sago miners. Families came together and said goodbye today. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOMER HICKAM, AUTHOR: The people endure here as they always have. For they understand that god has determined that there is no joy greater than hard work and that there is no water holier than the sweat off a man's brow. And such a place as this, a dozen men may die, but death can never destroy how they lived their life and why.



ROWLANDS: You see some of the miners that lost their lives there. We'll be showing you all of the miners throughout the program, tonight. Jim Campbell lost his brother-in-law Marty Bennett. He had a father that was in the business and his son, as well. Russell was on the shift afterwards at the Sago Mine. How is Russell doing with the loss of his father?

CAMPBELL: I think he is coping extremely well, both him and his mother are. He's not sure what to do. He is going back to work on Monday, just to help support his family. But he's not really sure what to do.

ROWLANDS: In that he's not sure that he can handle going back into the mine?

CAMPBELL: I'm sure he can handle going into the mine. He's not sure that he wants to put his mother through that after what she's went through with her husband.

ROWLANDS: What kind of a person was Marty?

CAMPBELL: He was an extraordinary human being. He went out of his way to help anybody, whether he knew them or didn't know them. As the reverend said today, he had a special place for anyone with a need, really. He enjoyed helping people, I think -- and he enjoyed working not just in the mine, at about anything there was, Marty could figure out how to do it.

ROWLANDS: Ron, how many of the miners, as far as you can tell, are going back into the mine, and are you going to go back?

GRALL: Oh, yes. I'm definitely going back. As a matter of fact I already went back to work last Monday. Of course, we haven't been inside the mine. We just been working outside. But I'm definitely going back and I think most of them -- most of the other guys are going back, too.

ROWLANDS: Not concerned at all about the safety? You think that by the time you do actually go back into the mine that things will be safe?

GRALL: Oh, yeah. I've been in the mine 40 years. I knew this mine here was fundamentally safe and I don't have no fear about going into the same mine. Or any other mine, as far as that goes.

ROWLANDS: You were there that morning. What happened at the moment of the explosion? Where were you and describe what you saw and felt.

GRALL: Well, I was at the one left switch, just getting ready to turn left into the one left section and that's when we didn't -- we didn't really hear anything, any explosion or anything but we felt it and we started to getting hit with coal dust and mud and wind and it blowed for about eight or 10 seconds and we just getting -- it was just scary. I mean, it was terrifying. That's as scared as I ever been. And then when it was all over, you could just feel the heat from the explosion. But the -- I didn't really see any smoke at the time. And we started getting everybody together and found the escape way and we got fresh air and then we started walking out.

ROWLANDS: When you realized that 13 of your co-workers and friends were still trapped in the mine, were you optimistic or pessimistic that they'd be able to get out?

GRALL: Well, I thought if they was going to get out, they would be coming in the next hour right behind us. But, when they didn't come out in the first hour, I thought maybe they was killed by the initial explosion, but they was a lot closer to it than we were. We was pretty close, we was about, oh, 1,000, 1,200 feet from it and we knew where it came from just by the direction it hit us in the face. And, but we had to get out because like I said, the mine starts filling up with carbon monoxide and methane, so you have to get out within the first hour.

ROWLANDS: Jim, you mentioned Russell and his apprehension because of his mother. Is it more difficult, in a way, for family members than it is for the miners?

CAMPBELL: It probably is. Just because they're not there and they don't have a full understanding and like he said, I don't think any of the miners really hold their job as extremely dangerous. It's their job just like everyone else has a job and they do it well. And, I just don't think they really fear it like the general public thinks they fear it. They go in every day and just do their job and go home to support their family like everyone else. So, yeah, it probably is harder on the families than it is actually the miners.

ROWLANDS: Reverend, what is it about the miners and their mentality that they do pick up and go back to work even after something like this, and knowing that there is inherent danger?

MCDANIELS: Well, I think once again, it's been said, it's their job. It's the way they put bread on the table, they put shoes on the feet of their children, they have a house and a home to live in, that's what they do and that's what they are trained to do and skilled to do. So, I'm certain that as they look at each day of what they have to do, they have some thoughts maybe of apprehension, but as Ron shared with you, it's just their way of life. It's just who they are. You're a coal miner and that's the job that you selected to do. And they go in and they mine the coal, so they know that there's danger and a risk of danger and life is filled with risks. And you try to minimize the risks and the coal mines, minimize as many risks as they can, but in every job and every occupation, there's a certain amount of risks that are taken. And so for the coal miner, they have some and here in West Virginia in the last couple of weeks we have seen what those coal mines can do with 12 of our coal miners, moving from this life into the next life and one that we're praying for every day to see a speedily recovery and a full recovery.

ROWLANDS: And those 12 were remembered today at a memorial service. We'll have more on the service and the latest on the investigation. You're watching a very special edition of LARRY KING LIVE stay with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lord, our hearts will always, always remember these precious men and their families. Lord, these men that have literally touched the hearts and lives of people around the world. Father, we thank you also for Randy McCloy and pray for his complete recovery. And Father we just pray that the healing process will continue. Lord, God, that you would comfort and give peace to these families as only you can.


ROWLANDS: The Sago miners that were killed in the accident two weeks ago tomorrow were remembered at a memorial service today. Joining us now is Terry Goff close friend of Terry Helms. He was at the service, he was also there at the Sago Mine during the agonizing 41 hours waiting for word. Of course, the roller coaster first finding out -- or thinking that there were 12 alive. I remember seeing you, Terry, come out and announce it and then coming without the bad news. What were your impressions of today's memorial?

TERRY GOFF, FRIEND OF TERRY HELMS, MINER KILLED IN SAGO MINE: I think the miners would be very proud that so many people gathered together to remember them, their lives, things that they did and what they did for the community, I really did (ph).

ROWLANDS: What do you miss most right now about your friend, Terry?

GOFF: Well, just the way he cracked up. You know? I'm sure if he was here, that he -- he would have enjoyed it, he really would have. He'd have told us to press on for Mr. McCloy and his family and pray for them and do everything we could for them.

ROWLANDS: You knew a lot of the miners, not just Terry Helms. What is it about the miner that draws them into the mine and, now, what is bringing them back? Most of the miners appear to be going back to work. According to Ron, it just, from an outsiders' standpoint, it seems unreal that these guys would endure this type of pain and then go back to the workplace where their friends and colleagues died.

GOFF: Well, you hear a lot of these people that you've interviewed telling what kind of people these miners were, how they'd give the shirt off of their back, that just tells you what kind of people these miners are. And for a lot of people this is a family tradition and they have done it -- their grandparents, clear back to their great grandparents when they took the mules into the mines and brought stuff out -- brought the coal out for us, it's just something that gets in their blood and it's hard -- they don't want to shake it. It's good money and it's a respectable job.

ROWLANDS: Going back to that 41-hour period and the roller coaster that you and the others went through, how -- give us a sense of how emotionally difficult it was to first find out, you thinking they're alive and then to find out the truth and how difficult is it now still when you go back and think about it?

GOFF: Well, it was really tough because, you know, you come down there and you get unverified news, but it comes from people that you think are reliable. You get down there and they ask you, you know, what happened? And you tell them and then before you know it, your face is put on newspapers and everything and three hours later, it's a different story and people look at you like, well, maybe you's that one that started the rumor and actually it wasn't and you still feel bad and you feel bad for all the families and it's -- you know, Mr. Helms was one of the first miners let off and when they found the first body we, his family and friends, people that worked in the mines pretty well knew that it -- pretty good chance of it being Terry and we were prepared then when they found out the 12 could possibly be alive, we had people come over and comfort us. Knowing that, you know, Terry was dead and then when -- for the tables to be turned for it multiply Terry's death by 12 when the other miners were confirmed dead.

ROWLANDS: Reverend, at the time that it was thought that 12 had been found alive, this was after 40 hours of praying for the best, or 30-plus hours, at that point, people were thanking god for the miracle. Were some people after the news switched blaming god?

MCDANIELS: Yes, sir. I want to explain that, too, if I could. They -- we had been stretched to the limits for 40 hours. Stretched to where we didn't think we could be stretched anymore. Every time that the folks came in to bring with us news, the news was always bad news and we'd stretch a little bit more and every two or three hours they would come in and they wouldn't give us any hope, but when that 12:00 hour came, as we stretched out, we relaxed. We were full of joy. We were -- we were elated because of the news and then we waited three hours in that state and then the news came that wasn't 12 alive, but there were 12 dead. We didn't get a chance to stretch gradually. They ripped the hearts of the folks that there, and yes, some folks said some things they would not normally say. They acted in ways they would not normally act.

But I want you to know, Ted, that those who where -- the one boy that was escorted out, he came back an hour or so later and he apologized for the way that he acted, for the one young man who said some things that he was -- about our governor, it was the same morning, because that happened at 3:00 a.m., probably around 12:00 that morning or afternoon, he came here to this chapel where we are and the governor was here to be able to help them to make a transition from here to the chapel over to identify the body. That gentleman wasn't happy with the governor at that 3:00 time, was able give the governor a hug and say to him, I don't blame you for this. But when that happened, we blamed god, we blamed the governor, we blamed everyone because we need somewhere to vent. So please, don't judge us of how we are at 3:00 a.m. when our hearts have been opened up, check with us when we have had a chance to process that. Check with us today and if you would have seen the families today, you would have seen families that have processed what took place and are able to understand and that's what I want folks to remember. That we have accepted, we understand the that the lord has given and taken away. And here we can say blessed be the name of the lord.

ROWLANDS: I don't think anybody's judging you in any other manner than favorably tonight.

MCDANIELS: Thank you.

ROWLANDS: Around the country. Terry Goff, we want to thank you for joining us. Terry Goff, close friend with Terry Helms and some of the other miners and has been there from the beginning. Thank you for joining us tonight. We're going to let him go.

Coming up, we're going to hear from the first lady of West Virginia and we're going to get the very latest on the sole survivor, Randy McCloy. Stay with us. You're watching a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.


HICKAM: We are proud of who we are. We stand up for what we believe. We keep our families together. We trust in god. But rely on ourselves. By adhering to the four simple approaches to life, they were a people who were not afraid to do what had to be done. To mine the deep coal and to do it with integrity and honor.



ROWLANDS: We are joined now by the first lady of West Virginia Gayle Manchin, she and her husband Joe Manchin were at the memorial service today. They were also with the family members during much of that 40 hour agonizing time period at the Sago Mine and at the Sago Baptist Church.

Thanks for joining us, Mrs. Manchin. What was the service like? What impressions did you take from it today?

GAYLE MANCHIN, FIRST LADY OF WEST VIRGINIA: It was a beautiful service. It was very thoughtfully orchestrated and coordinated. I think that it truly touched every member of every family that was in there. It think there was a healing.

The motto, or the emblem, of the service was "Honor, Hope and Healing". And I believe that that truly defined what went on today. We were honoring those men that had given their lives for their families, for their work. There was hope in the room for the living, for those whose lives would go on. And certainly hope for the miracle in that disaster, Randal McCloy, Jr. And there was healing. I think people being together, the comfort, the support that families offered one another. It truly wasn't 13 families, it was one West Virginia family, sharing heartache, hope and healing.

ROWLANDS: During that ceremony, you presented each of the family members with a small statue of a coal miner. Your husband as well addressed the gathering saying that you will find out what happened in this accident.

Now, you mentioned Randal McCloy. You have been close to the family, specifically Anna McCloy. What is the latest in terms of his condition? I guess it was upgraded?

MANCHIN: Very cautiously optimistic. Everyday -- we get a report, there is a wonderful team of doctors at Ruby Memorial that are working very closely with him. One is Doctor Julian Bailes, the neurological surgeon there, who really is very optimistic. The fact that Randy hasn't just woke up and started talking to him, is not -- that's not a bad thing.

And he was defining the other day that there is a difference between being in a coma and being in a sleep like state. And he defines Randy's condition as being in this sleep like state. So that his brain is healing. That it is sort of hibernating until it -- until it's ready to wake up. But certainly Randy is responding to voices, when his wife and his children are in the room. Again, being part of this West Virginia family, we believe that the family being able to be there with him is probably a very good part of the healing process.

But he is responding. His heart and the vital organs, his lungs and all, are getting stronger everyday. And so that too, encourages the healing process. So they are very cautiously optimistic. And as you say, Ted, they did, I believe, upgrade his condition today.

ROWLANDS: Which is wonderful. During the ordeal you and your husband lived the agony and the roller coaster. Your husband did, and I'm not sure if you did as well, hear that possibly the bad -- the good news was actually bad for some period of time. You're thoughts, now, looking back two weeks. During that 40 hours and, specifically, what should or should not have been done possibly during that miscommunication and when it was realized that the miners indeed were dead, and not alive?

MANCHIN: Well, it was a nightmare. It was a horrific experience for all of those families. I believe it is more about how we look forward rather than looking back, what should have been said, or not said.

I'll tell you what was said that, to me, truly exemplifies the character of the West Virginia people. As we went to the visitations for those miners that passed away all of those families were very concerned about Anna, about Randy McCloy, about even in their own time of very deep grief, that they were hoping -- they wanted Randy to live. And their thoughts and prayers and concerns were with her, as well as with their own family. And when I was with Anna, in the hospital, she was so distraught that -- even though she needed and wanted to be by her husband, that she wasn't able to be with those families that were going through this great time of grief. That they had been there in the church together, but yet she had not been able to go to the visitations and the funerals.

And so today, one of the wonderful things that occurred was this reunion. That Anna got to go and speak to the other wives and mothers and sisters and brothers. And hug them and they consoled one another. And that truly, I believe, what this is about. Not what should have been said, but what people are saying right now. And what people are saying right now is that we love and care about one another and we're going to work together to support one another to get through this.

ROWLANDS: Gayle Manchin, the first lady of West Virginia. She and her husband, the governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin, lived this nightmare with the community of the folks at the Sago Mine, joining us tonight.

Thank you, very much, first lady. And give our regards to the governor.

When we come back we'll have more on the investigation as to what exactly happened at the mine. What happened with the accident? And when these miners are going to go back to work. Stay with us, you're watching LARRY KING LIVE.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think of these men and the many of that are left on the hills of West Virginia, and yet, I think of these men, and the 13 that are there. Some of their names never left the state of West Virginia. Some of them may have never left West Virginia, but those 13 names are the names that the world has had an opportunity to get to know.



ROWLANDS: More of the miners that were remembered today at a very emotional memorial service in West Virginia. Vicki Smith is a reporter with the "Associated Press."

What is the latest in terms of the investigation as to what caused the accident and the explosion?

SMITH: Well, the cause of this accident is still undetermined. There are several theories that the investigators are working on. The investigation has not officially begun. The investigators are at the scene, they were at the mine today.

They have not been able to reenter the mine. They have been venting gases from the mine. Once it is declared safe to enter the investigators will go in and start looking at pretty much everything, every physical piece of evidence they can find in the mine.

There is a location where they believe the blast occurred. But it is somewhat of a mystery as to both the fuel and the ignition source for that blast. It is very much a mystery and that investigation will be beginning very soon.

ROWLANDS: Now the Sago Mine was hit with a number of violations in the time period leading up to this explosion, but is it accurate to say that this was not, by any stretch of the imagination, forecasted by these or had anything to do with the problems that were cited, and I gather, taken care of in the mine? This came out of the blue, didn't it?

SMITH: Yes, I think that is true. You know, Ben Hatfield, the president of International Coal Group said earlier this week that there is no evidence that those violations had anything to do with this explosion and to this point, that is true. There -- among the violations were citations for accumulation of combustible materials. That may or not turn out to be a factor in this explosion. But at this point there does not seem to be anything definitely linking any of those previous violations to this explosion.

ROWLANDS: And the families, will they be compensated by the mine, has that been disclosed?

SMITH: I don't think that has been discussed. I know that the company has helped pay for funerals. I know that they are doing -- they've also started a fund for the families. I believe they put about $2 million in it to start, and have been soliciting donations. So there will be money given to the families. I don't know if you would call that compensation. But that is kind of where things stand at the moment.

ROWLANDS: All right. Let's take a couple of calls. Hazard, Kentucky, hello.

Hello, Hazard, Kentucky, can you hear me?

CALLER: I have a question for Ron.

ROWLANDS: Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.

CALLER: I'm the wife of a coal miner. And I just wanted to know what he could say, as a coal miner, to encourage and ease the minds of us wives of coal miners. To give us hope that they -- that you all are going to return home safe to us?

GRALL: What was that, again, now?

CALLER: I was just wanting to know what you would say, as a coal miner, to encourage us, the wives of coal miners, that you guys are going to come home safe to us, every night from your shifts.

GRALL: Well, the only thing I could think of is they died -- what they loved doing. And that's just about it. ROWLANDS: Ron, do you think that your family and other coal miners' families do go through more than you do, in terms of fear, of the unexpected and the possibility of an accident?

GRALL: Yeah, right. It worries the families more than it worries us when we're in there. You know, we're good at our jobs. And we do it good, and we do it safe. And there is fear at home all the time, you know. It's just something you have to live with.

ROWLANDS: Something that many people live with in this business and as Ron said before, they continue to go back into the mines, despite an accident like this, which really does showcase the inherent dangers of being a coal miner. But they say their drawn to it, we'll have more on this after a quick break.

Right now, let's check in with Carol Lin, who is in Atlanta, with a preview of what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Carol.


Coming up in about 15 minutes, we're going to have new details tonight about the latest U.S. strike against the Al Qaeda's No. 2 man. How the military targeted him. Why they may have missed. And now the new backlash against America in its war on terror.

Plus, you've heard of prenuptial agreements, before you get married, right? Well, how about prenups before you have sex. The ultimate protection? Rappers, rock stars and athletes are signing up. Next on "CNN SUNDAY NIGHT", but more of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.



REV. WEASE DAY, SAGO BAPTIST CHURCH: Lord, we're so thankful for the time that you have shared all of these miners with us. And Lord, for the one that is in Morgantown in that hospital bed, Lord, we ask you to send down the double-portion of your spirit. Lord, that healing power that you have. And, Lord, that comfort to these families that are here. And Lord, that we will love one another as you have loved us.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've come to celebrate the 13 lives, of lives that have been well-lived. And we want to remember them today, in a special way, we feel probably will bring a few tears to your eyes, but also bring joy to your hearts. And out goal is, throughout this service here, for this afternoon is that you will leave here feeling better than when you came.


ROWLANDS: Part of today's emotional memorial for the Sago miners who lost their lives. Let's take a couple more calls. Buckhannon, West Virginia. Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, sir?


CALLER: If this was -- it's been reported in our local papers that this was a safe mine. If so, why is it taking so long for the gas to leave so they can get in and start their investigations?


SMITH: Well, when she said it was reported as a safe mine, that was Ben Hatfield saying it was a safe mine. And he is, again, the president and CEO of International Coal Group. He made that declaration earlier this week in a press conference.

I think the main problem with the venting of gases from the mine is that the ventilation system in the mine was damaged in the explosion. And so they've had to restore that system and it is just going to take some time. They can't go back in and rebuild the fans. So it is going to take some time get those gases out of there.

ROWLANDS: Ron, the fact that the mine was cited by inspectors leading up to the accident, does that give you -- did it give you any pause now, in retrospect, that maybe this mine was unsafe. Do you blame the company at all? Or do you think that if the inspectors didn't pick it up, how would you, or the company, even know that there was an inherent problem?

GRALL: Well, the mine was fundamentally safe, in my opinion. The air, the ventilation had been increased 100 percent since I've been here. And they've worked and they spent millions of dollars getting the air -- increased the fan, the ventilation on both sections 100 percent. Escape ways have been worked on; they were in good shape. And they did a lot of rock dusting. There is no -- the violations they've gotten has nothing to do with this accident.

ROWLANDS: What do you think happened?

GRALL: Because mines will --

ROWLANDS: What do you think happened?

GRALL: My theory? I think lightening caused it. I mean there was a lightening --

ROWLANDS: You mean there was a lightening --

GRALL: There was a severe thunderstorm that went through that morning at exactly the same time the explosion occurred. And there were lightening strikes verified all around that mine. And the sealed off area, there was no source of ignition back there, where it blew, where it blew out.

ROWLANDS: So, you're saying that the gases had accumulated and then the lightening strike was the igniter? That's what you believe?

GRALL: Well, that is just speculation. I mean, that is just one theory. There is another theory it might have been a roof fall, that could have created a spark. But that is just something investigators will have to go in there and find out. I hope they do, because I'd like to know what happened. I'd like to know what happened, myself.

ROWLANDS: But bottom line you were going back.


ROWLANDS: But you are going back and you are confident that when you do, you are going to be safe?

GRALL: Right. I felt safe before, when I was in there before.

ROWLANDS: All right. Amazing --

GRALL: Like I said, they've -- they've -- like I said, they've spent, since I've been there a short time, they have increased the ventilation. They've increased the upkeep of the escape ways.

ROWLANDS: OK, thank you, Ron. When we come back a special musical tribute to the men who lost their lives the day after New Years. That's coming up on LARRY KING LIVE.


ROWLANDS: That is the show for tonight. Thank you very much for joining us. And thanks for Larry, for letting me sit in. And thanks to all of our guests tonight, the families and friends of the 12 men who died in the Sago Mine.

"CNN SUNDAY NIGHT" with Carol Lin, is up next. But first, a special performance by a country star, whose grandfathers both worked in the West Virginia coal mines. Kathy Mattea, the song, "The Slender Thread That Binds Us All". You can find it on her Web site at Here now is Kathy Mattea.



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