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An Urgent Rescue Mission in Another West Virginia Coal Mine; A Deadline Today in Iraq

Aired January 20, 2006 - 07:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Miles O'Brien.
An urgent rescue mission in another West Virginia coal mine. Two miners are trapped underground. We'll take you there live for the latest on a developing story.


A deadline today in Iraq. There is still hope for saving an American journalist held hostage. We're live in Baghdad this morning.

M. O'BRIEN: And will Osama bin Laden's new message raise the terror threat level? Not now at least. More on the message, live from Washington, ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

M. O'BRIEN: Good to have you with us this morning. Breaking news this morning. They are saying time is not our friend. That is what West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin said just a little while ago. He's talking about two miners trapped underground in Melville, West Virginia. That's about 60 miles southwest of Charleston, not close to the Sago mine. But nevertheless, only three weeks after the incident.

AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken is there this morning.

Bob, bring us up to date.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite a few other differences, too, Miles. The layout of the mine is entirely different. This is a much bigger mine. It is about a thousand feet at its deepest point, but the miners went in about 5:30 last night. They went in to about 10,000 feet when they encountered a fire under a conveyor belt. No explosion this time. That obviously is a big difference. It is a fire that caused them to ride on their transport back out, but they got to a certain point, and then they had to crawl on their knees in a human chain wearing respirators.

By the way, the respirator is a cause of concern. One of the big things you always have to worry about is that the miner is able to get his respirator on properly, and that is something they're concerned about in this particular situation.

In any case, when they got out, they realized that two of their number had gone missing. They were not part of the group that had gone in, and so the alarm went out. And the first rescue crews came around midnight is when they first went into the mine, although the word had gotten out before that. And now the search is going on. We are told that one of the rescue crews -- there are five of them now -- has encountered the fire on the conveyor belt, but thus far no word they have seen anything of the two miners they are searching for. There is a bit more optimism than there was in Sago, but we learned the very bitter lesson of that.

As a matter of fact, the governor told us up the street about 200 yards or so, there's a Freewell (ph) Baptist Church, where the people of this area are going through the all-too familiar mournful ritual of waiting.


GOV. JOE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGINIA: As far as the family, the family is strong. The family's support is in -- you know, Is there, they're strong. They're very prayerful. They're very hopeful. And Doug has been able to give them a complete briefing to explain that what is going on, and I think all of you have been through this scenario with us before. Time is not our friend.


FRANKEN: As I said, this is a different situation than the Sago mine. And of course Everybody here is hoping for a considerably different outcome -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: That is for sure. Bob Franken, keep us posted from there. We'll be back with you in just a little bit -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: There is no word yet on the fate of American journalist Jill Carroll. Hear father, appearing on a Arab TV network, is urging her captors to -- and I'm quoting here -- let her be the voice to your world. Carroll appeared this week on an insurgent video shown on the Arab TV network Al Jazeera. Her captors say they're going to kill her unless the U.S. releases all Iraqi women take that it has in custody.

CNN's Michael Holmes is live for us in Baghdad this morning.

Michael, good morning.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

That's right, and it was on Al Jazeera that we heard Jim Carroll, Jill's father, speak. It was translated into Arabic, so I'll read for you a little bit what he had to say on Al Jazeera, which is of course seen all around this region.

He said, in part, "I want to speak directly to the men holding my daughter Jill because they may also be fathers like me. My daughter does not have the ability to free anyone. She is a reporter and an innocent person. Do not sacrifice an innocent soul."

Now, Soledad, significantly, too, there was another plea for Jill's release. This one coming from a very prominent Sunni politician. His name is Adnan al-Dulaimi. He held a news conference yesterday calling for the 28-year-old to be released. The significance of al-Dulaimi is not only he is he senior Sunni in this often-divided society, but he is the man that Jill Carroll was going to interview the day she was taken. She got to his office. He wasn't there. She waited around 15 minutes and was kidnapped just 300 meters from his office as she was leaving -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Michael Holmes for us, reporting live from Baghdad with the very latest from there. Michael, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Osama bin Laden out with his 19th recorded message since 9/11. Have you heard it? Have you heard this warning? Listen.


OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): I would also like to say that the war against America and its allies will not be confined for Iraq. Iraq has become a magnet for attracting and training talented fighters. Our Mujahadin were able to overcome come all security measures in European countries, and you saw their operation in major European capitals.

As for similar operations taking place in America, it's only a matter of time. They are in the planning stages and you will see them in the heart of your land as soon as the planning is complete.


M. O'BRIEN: I guess it's not a news flash, Nic Robertson, that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are planning terror attacks for us. But nevertheless, hearing his voice in this context is something we have to reckon with. What's the thinking this morning as to, first of all, how valid this recording is, especially its timing, when it was recorded?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: The best indication, I think, that we're able to glean indicates it was recorded sometime after early December. And if you remember back to then, that's when the debate then was really heating up over Iraq, whether or not to pull the U.S. troops. And this message started by saying this is a message to end the war in Iraq, and it seems as if bin Laden was watching the political situation here, trying to find a moment of weak public opinion to make this message. Perhaps the message was also rushed out, coming at the end of a week when it appeared that one moment his deputy might have been killed in a CIA airstrike, that other of his key leaders in al Qaeda might have also been killed. They weren't. AT least that's not been confirmed so far. But it does appear as if perhaps the message rushed out to put the agenda back on his terms, if you will.

M. O'BRIEN: Nic, this truce thing comes up. And I do recall immediately before the Madrid bombings, a similar truce kind of deal was offered to European nations. What are we make of that?

ROBERTSON: That truce, Miles, actually, came immediately after the Madrid bombings. And, again, it seems to be sort of opportunism, political opportunism, if you will, by al Qaeda. The Madrid bombings, a change of government there; they decided to pull their troops out of Iraq. Then al Qaeda offers other European nations a truce, and this is in April 2004, if they pull their troops out of Iraq, too, with a deadline then was July 2004. Britain, of course, continued to keep its troops in Iraq, a close ally of the United States. Then, over a year later, that's when the London bombings happened. So although there was a truce, an offer of a truce, a deadline, ultimately, al Qaeda made good on that threat, followed through with their intentions -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Nic Robertson in Washington for us this morning, thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, and we quote him now, "The terrorists started this war. The president made it clear we will end it at a time and place of our choosing." That in response to the truce offer. We, of course, will keep following this story. And in just a few moments we will speak with the former CIA director, James Woolsey -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, nearly 11 years after the Oklahoma City Bombing, the key witness for the prosecution is set to walk free. Michael Fortier will be released from federal prison sometime today. Authorities aren't saying when or where. For the survivors of hi attack, his release is, though, is another painful reminder.

Ed Lavandera is at the Oklahoma City Bombing memorial this morning.

Ed, good morning.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, many of these family members knew this day would be coming after the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, but nonetheless, it doesn't make it any easier. Three days ago, many families received a letter from federal government saying that Michael Fortier would be released today.

But what bothers many of them it's being handled in secrecy.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Michael Fortier will forever be remembered as the man who could have stopped the Oklahoma City bombing. So the idea of Fortier walking free angers the grandmother of Aaron and Elijah Coverdale, two of 168 bombing victims.

JANNIE COVERDALE, GRANDMOTHER OF BOMBING VICTIMS: I hope life is going to be very bad for him on the outside. I hope his life is going to be hell like mine. I miss my boys.

LAVANDERA: Fortier was the star witness for the prosecution in the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. In exchange for his testimony, Fortier pleaded guilty to knowing about the bombing plot and not saying anything about it. He received a 12-year prison sentence. With credit for good behavior, Fortier is being released a year-and-a-half early to resume his life with his wife and two children. His attorney says Fortier is sorry for his failure to help stop the bombing.

MICHAEL MCGUIRE, FORTIER'S ATTORNEY: He'll never be able to forget that, and that always puts a tremendous burden on him and his conscious every day, the rest of his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and your taxes (ph).

LAVANDERA: Almost 11 years after the bombing, Brandon and Rebecca Denny have come a long way, recovering from the brutal injuries they suffered that day. Their family isn't bothered by Fortier's release. It's their way of letting go of the past.

JIM DENNY, FATHER OF BOMBING VICTIM: It doesn't come easy for us to say, yes, let him out. That's fine, let him go, you know. He deserves it. He paid his debt to society, and he's no threat to anybody.


LAVANDERA: Several sources tell CNN that Fortier was put in a witness protection program while he was in prison, so where he goes now and where he starts his new life with his wife and two children is a mystery -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Ed Lavandera. Ed, thank you for that report.

Ahead this morning, we're going to talk to Fortier's attorney, find out what he thinks about folks concerns about his client's release -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In Boston, a right-to-die case is getting a little more complicated this morning. Eleven-year-old Haleigh Poutre declared virtually brain dead and taken off her respirator is now showing signs of improvement. Now you may recall that her stepfather lost a suit to keep her on life support, but he is also charged with beating her.

AMERICAN MORNING's Dan Lothian is watching developments from our Boston bureau.

Dan, how is she doing?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre, Miles, is undergoing a battery of tests, we're told. According to DSS which has custody of the young girl, she is now, as we mentioned, showing, in their words, "significant change," and they also say that she's breathing on her own now. Now officials at the state agency also say that there is some movement, perhaps like a movement of the limb.

What is unclear, though, is to what extent this reaction is happening, if it is simply a reflex or response to a specific command. Tests will continue throughout the day, and DSS will hold a press conference later this afternoon to update us on the condition.

But clearly, as you mentioned, this is yet another turn in an already complicated case -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: What are the chances? Did the doctors say it's possible she could recover in some meaningful way?

LOTHIAN: Doctors haven't spoken to us specifically involved in this case, but that is such an interesting question.

I did speak to a couple of other medical experts, including our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta who they all say it is highly unlikely that given her condition, which is severe brain damage, that she'll be able to fully recover, if recover at all. I'm told that patients do pull out of these coma sometimes, but they can't feed themselves or do any of the other key functions.

Now, having said that, if there were to be a recovery, experts say, that it would most likely happen in a child, because they have more of what they call plastic brains; they're able to move functions from one part of the brain to the other and they're more resilient -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Whatever the medical situation is, it's sure to cloud the legal discussion.

LOTHIAN: It really will, because at this point, no plans to take her off life support or feeding tube removed so that is on stay. So it will interesting to see where this case moves forward. Right now, her father, her stepfather rather, is out on bail on that assault charge.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Dan Lothian, that's a tough story there. He's watching for us from Boston -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Brutal story on so many levels.


S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, more on that new tape from Osama bin Laden. He says on the tape it's only a matter of time before the U.S. is attacked again. How seriously should we be taking that threat? we're going to check in with a former CIA director.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, the latest on that coal mine story out of West Virginia. Not Sago, we're talking about another one that happened while you were sleeping. Two coal miners trapped underground. We'll talk to the man coordinating the rescue mission , which is under way right now.

S. O'BRIEN: And Google is fighting the government. The feds want to see what millions of people are searching for online. Is it an invasion of privacy? That story is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



M. O'BRIEN: Coming up that new Osama bin Laden audiotape. The terrorist mastermind says new attacks against Americans are in the works. How worried should we be? And we are keeping a close eye on the developing story out of West Virginia. Another coal miner incident. Two miners are trapped underground as we speak. We'll talk to the official coordinating those rescue efforts, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: This is a live picture now -- I'm sorry, this is videotape. This videotape from Logan County, West Virginia. This is about 60 miles southwest of Charleston. And it's happening again on a smaller scale, but nevertheless, we're going through another mine saga here. Two miners trapped underground in the wake of a fire on a belt device used for coal mining. There were 14 total underground. They tried to stick together, form a human chain to get out. They got to a point where there was some fresh air, did a head count. Two were missing.

And as a result now, as you can see, family members gathering there at this mine in Melville, West Virginia, as well as rescue workers to begin the process of trying to get those two miners out. We should tell you -- of course, we're all thinking about Sago. There's a lot of things we need to know about. It's a bigger mine, first of all, which is good. That means there's more places to go, more fresh air potentially.

Secondly, when you have an explosion, they think likely triggered by lightning in the case of Sago -- huge explosion which really enveloped the entire mine, because the gases kind of built up there, methane and the like.

In this case, you have an isolated fire in a much bigger mine. As a result, the carbon monoxide count that they've been able to register so far is about a third of what it was in Sago. Now Sago's was extremely high, 2,600 parts of a million, which doesn't mean much, but it's many, many times a lethal dose over a short period of time.

And so in this case, the carbon monoxide situation is not as bad a problem, and it appears, with Sago fresh on everybody's mind, that we're getting a faster response. Of course Sago happened on a holiday, the first Monday after the new year. It was very difficult getting people mobilized, and it took quite sometime before they got to the miners.

S. O'BRIEN: They were also in Sago -- and you know this because you were there -- many more issues about access.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: You had that robot that got stuck. They had many -- because of the explosion, you couldn't just drill in or send people in. They were terrified that they might, you know, actually put the rescuers at a greater risk. M. O'BRIEN: Exactly. Exactly. So we're watching it very closely. Bob Franken is on the ground. We're going to check in with one of the rescue workers, one of the people organizing this rescue effort very shortly, and we'll keep you up to date.

Back with more in just a moment.


M. O'BRIEN: Let's bring you up-to-date on the situation there in Melville, West Virginia. This is Logan County, West Virginia, 60 miles southwest of Charleston. A coal mine there where two miners are currently trapped in the wake of a fire on a belting device.

Joining me now to talk a little about the rescue effort is Roger Bryant. He is director of the Logan County Office of Emergency Services.

Roger, I know you're very busy this morning. Thank you for your time. Bring us up to date. How is the rescue process proceeding?

ROBERT BRYANT, DIR., LOGAN CO. EMERGENCY SERVICES: Well, I can't actually give you much information how the actual rescue is going. We're set up just outside the mine site, and I know that the mine rescue teams are working in the mine. I know that there's a fire in the mine, inside the mine, and we have two people that are unaccounted for. You have to understand that our role as the local emergency services provider is to provide support services for those rescue teams and for the mining company which is actually conducting the rescue. We've been doing that since about 8:30 last night.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, we discovered in Sago, that one of the problems -- of course there were a lot of problem. For one thing, it was a holiday when that happened. But one of the problems, was a lot of these trained mine rescue teams were not easily deployed quickly to the Sago mine. Did you have rescue teams quickly available? And how long has it been from the fire to the moment they were on the scene?

BRYANT: Well, like I said, I really don't have that kind of information available. I can tell you that I know that there is seven mine rescue teams that have been on the scene through the night, and we've been providing service to those folks. We brought in about 2,250 gallon of foam fire retardant, which is on the scene, and we're importing that into the mine and have been for some time.

M. O'BRIEN: OK, so you're really on the perimeter of this and can at least give us a sense then of what the reaction there is in Logan County to go through this right on the heels of Sago. What are people thinking and saying there about this?

BRYANT: Well, I mean, I haven't actually been out in the community. I've been on the scene at the mine. I can tell you that the effort, the rescue effort, and the cooperation has just been tremendous. We've got our local fire departments that have been, you know, providing the services. We've got all of the foam from Logan County. We've imported all of the foam from Raleigh County and from Boone County. In addition to that, we've imported another 2,000 gallons from various parts of the state.

M. O'BRIEN: Quick question for you. I'm just curious, you know, just personally when this -- when your beeper went off or this came over the radio, or the phone went off, what went through your mind?

BRYANT: Well, kind of went through my mind is, oh no, not again. You know, here we go again. We're only about not even 20 days into the new year and, you know, this is kind of the third mine accident that we've had. So the year is not starting out very well for miners.

M. O'BRIEN: It's dangerous business, isn't it?

BRYANT: It is. Very much so.

M. O'BRIEN: Roger Bryant, who is director of emergency services in Logan County. I'll let you get back to work, sir. Thank you for your time.

BRYANT: OK. Thank you very much.

M. O'BRIEN: Our pleasure.

S. O'BRIEN: Tough news there. Hopefully those crews will be able to get in there and make some fast work to pull those two guys out.


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