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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Tragedy at Crandall Canyon Mine

Aired August 18, 2007 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A CNN special is next: "Tragedy at Crandall Canyon Mine".
First, some breaking stories.

Hurricane Dean is approaching Jamaica and is likely to hit the island tomorrow as a Category 5. The storm caused damage and several deaths in Martinique and St. Lucia. Evacuations are under way in parts of Mexico, and Louisiana and Texas both are under states of emergency ahead of a possible midweek landfall.

And Peru is sending troops to try to stop looting in the region struck by an earthquake. The death toll has passed 500, with widespread damage in the area south of Lima. Now, three days after the earthquake struck, food, water and tents are starting to reach victims.

And Billy Graham was admitted to a hospital today near his home in North Carolina. Medical officials say the 88-year-old evangelist had suffered intestinal bleeding which now has stopped. They say Graham could be released in a couple of days if all goes well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD (voice over): Next on this CNN special, "Tragedy at Crandall Canyon Mine," the digging for the miners trapped in a Utah mountain indefinitely suspended.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I had the skill to do it, I would go in and dig with my hands, because the families need closure and it's not fair to the families.

WHITFIELD: Loved ones and fellow miners feeling trapped themselves while trying to find balance between hope and harsh dangers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These miners shouldn't have been put in this position, to even have to be rescuing these six miners.

WHITFIELD: We answer questions created by this tragedy. Were there warning signs? When, if ever, should a mine rescue effort be abandoned? Is it possible to make mines safe?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. And welcome to this special one-hour edition of "Tragedy at Crandall Canyon".

Here's the latest on the effort to find the six miners.

Rescue workers are pinning their hopes on a fourth hole drilled into the mine's deepest depths. The effort to tunnel toward the miners remains on hold after Thursday night's fatal collapse. The three rescuers who died identified today as miners Dale Black and Brandon Kimber and federal mine inspector Gary Jensen.

At this hour, rescue efforts are still under way, with a greater reliance now on technology and tools to send it from above ground.

With the latest on progress and obstacles, CNN's Dan Lothian in Huntington, Utah.

Dan, this has to be a difficult situation for the rescue workers who want to get to these miners but at the same time they don't want to jeopardize the safety of the rescuers any further.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that's right, Fredricka. It is such a frustrating effort here, because they had hoped that they could reach those trapped miners by boring underground. But instead, they've been working all day up on top of that mountain behind me drilling down into an area where they believe the miners might be, those six miners who have now been underground for almost two weeks.

Now, the big question, what's unclear, is whether or not they've been able to reach that area, which is more than 1,400 feet where they believe they might be. We do understand that they have made some significant progress.

Later this afternoon -- in fact, at about two hours or so -- mine safety officials, as well as mine owners, are expected to hold a media briefing. At that time, we'll get a clearer picture as to the progress. But that, indeed, is where they're pinning all their hopes, on that fourth bore hole.

We know that one, two and three did not work. In fact, they went down, they sent down microphones, they sent down cameras, but they did not detect anything at all. There had been some hope when a little bit of noise showed up on one of their graphs, and that's what caused them to start digging in the area where they are now, which is that fourth bore hole.

The idea, of course, is to go down that hole, send down a microphone, send down a camera, look around, find out if the miners are down there. They also, with that hole, will be able to send down any kind of supplies that might be needed if the miners are alive.

They can send down food. They can send down water. And then, that will also given the time necessary to bore a much larger hole, send down a capsule, and extract the miners, if they are alive -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Dan, now, can you give me an idea who these rescue workers are, even though they're working from above ground now? Because we heard the governor yesterday, who said he doesn't want anyone else, no other rescuers' lives, to be jeopardized, which almost sounds like public servants, anyone who may perhaps work for the city or maybe even the state wouldn't be part of this effort.

Is this effort strictly by the Murray Energy Group, their own employees, who are carrying out these rescue operations?

LOTHIAN: Yes. It really has been. From the very beginning, these miners who wok for the Murray Energy Company, they have been the ones involved in this rescue operation.

Now, we do know that those federal -- those federal officials have also been there investigating and assisting in terms of telling them, you know, this is the safest way to go in there. But it really has been the mine itself involved in the rescue operation.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Dan Lothian, thank you so much. Seemingly, that the federal assistance is really almost in a supervisory kind of capacity.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

WHITFIELD: Well, Thursday's collapse is a staggering second chapter to the event in Crandall Canyon. For residents in the tight-knit mining community, it's a new reason to grieve.

Our Dan Simon is at a church near Huntington -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, this is where the families of the six trapped miners are now huddled. They had been at a local middle school, but they had to move because school is back in session on Monday. The kids are coming back.

So, life does go on here, but the tragedy is never far from the surface.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON (voice over): From car washes to donation boxes, a grieving community rallies around its miners and their families.

LAURA OLIVAS, WAITRESS: It's hard to imagine, you know, in a small little town something like this could happen.

SIMON: At the Balance Rock Eatery and Pub, waitress Laura Olivas says it's hard to talk or even think about anything else. She knows three of the trapped miners, and her husband is a miner.

OLIVAS: At first I wasn't really scared of him going to the mine because I was already used to it. And he's -- he's been there for five years now. But now, you know, maybe we're thinking of him changing jobs.

SIMON: But for others, of course, the tragedy is much more personal.

AZURE DAVIS, FAMILY MEMBER OF MINERS: It's just hard.

SIMON: Azure Davis' cousin, Kerry Allred, is still stuck in the mine. And another cousin, Dale Black, was one of the rescuers killed Thursday night when a seismic bomb caused another part of the mine to collapse, burying him beneath a heap of coal and rock.

Despite his death, she disagrees with stopping the underground rescue.

DAVIS: I can just imagine being trapped myself and hearing rocks fall, thinking OK, they're close enough. They must be close by. And that's got to be really hard.

SIMON: A sentiment echoed by Davis's friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My biggest fear was that they would stop, they would stop looking. There's a grandpa out there, somebody's husband out there, somebody's dad.

I'm a daddy's girl. You know? And I know they have families that need them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I had the skill to do it, then I would go in and dig with my hands, because the families need closure and it's not fair to the families.

SIMON: Mining is still the lifeblood of this central Utah community. But two miners tell us the profession is getting too dangerous.

Randy Howell (ph) says he retired several years ago after getting hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been covered up in that much coal in a mine before from those bounces, and I guess I just got lucky. But I don't know anymore about these mines.

I don't walk in them no more. I put 26 years in the mine, and my son worked -- my son works in one now, and I wish he would go to school and do something else. But the mining is so good.

SIMON: Today, many families here are in need of an escape. The town of Helper is going forward with its annual arts festival. Organizers hope it will bring some smiles, if only for a moment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Pretty much everybody, everyone in some way in this town has been affected by this tragedy. Of course, no more so than the people who are huddled at this church just waiting on any little nuggets of information. It's just got to be so frustrating, so painful for these families -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Right, Dan. And while they express their frustration, to hear that underground operations are suspended, you have to wonder if a lot of these family members or fellow miners are now talking about trying to pull together resources to get something going to the effect of an underground search outside of what the Murray Energy Group was doing?

SIMON: You know, that's something, no doubt, that they're going to be talking about. You heard some of the federal officials talking about bringing in some experts to try to come up with perhaps another plan to get that underground rescue going once again.

You know, Fredricka, you know, we talked about how everybody is affected by this tragedy. If you're not a miner, if you don't know one of the rescuers, certainly you may -- you may have a neighbor who works in the mine.

It's just so pervasive. That gives you an idea of how this entire community is grieving -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dan Simon, thank you so much for that update.

There is already a lot of finger pointing in the mine tragedy. Who or what is to blame?

Up next some thoughts from the head of health and safety for the United Mine Workers of America.

Our special edition of the "Tragedy at Crandall Canyon Mine" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: They're also drilling a fourth hole. And if they can locate them through the holes, there's another way that they might be able to go and get them, and that would be through a 30- inch hole all the way down through.

If they could locate them when they are alive, if they find them alive, then they can lower food, oxygen and all the other things that they need down there and have them wait until they drill that 30-inch hole from the top. If they can't go in sideways.

So there are ways of trying to do this. But I have to say it's very discouraging.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So what now? How does this rescue effort proceed?

Mine expert Dennis O'Dell is the head of health and safety for the United Mine Workers of America. He's on the line with us now from Morgantown, West Virginia.

And Mr. O'Dell, glad you could be with us.

Before I ask you about what next with the rescue effort, let me ask you, who or what do you blame for what the governor is calling a catastrophe?

DENNIS O'DELL, UNITED MINE WORKERS: Well, I understand that there's talk now that they want to bring the experts in. And that's very disturbing to me, because any time there's a rescue or recovery operation that you get involved in, especially in the situation that we're in Utah, knowing the conditions that can occur and what we have seen occur, I would have thought that the experts would have been brought in from ground zero, from the very beginning of this.

And then after we get rescue workers killed and some hurt, and everything has to take a back seat -- not a back seat, but to be put on hold, and the family members who have miners, their loved ones who were still trapped, and now we're talking about bringing experts in, I find that very, very disturbing.

WHITFIELD: So you see this really as a cart before the horse thing. You think these experts should have been brought in at the onset? Is that what I'm hearing from you?

O'DELL: Absolutely. I mean, from the very beginning.

Any rescue and recovery attempt that I've been involved in -- and I've been involved in a lot of them -- we bring in all the experts from all over to decide whether we're fighting a fire, whether the mine has been flooded, whether there's been explosions. I mean, we always bring in all the resources.

And what we're looking in Utah with these mountain bumps and the conditions, when you look at the map and you find out that these mountain bumps are now going to be even more escalated because of all the...

WHITFIELD: So why wouldn't the argument -- pardon me. Why wouldn't the argument be made that perhaps the folks who are conducting or have been conducting this rescue effort, they know this mountain better than anybody else given that they work it day in and day out. Why wouldn't they be the right ones to go in, to know about these bumps, to know about the vulnerabilities or perhaps even sort of the unpredictability of this mountain?

O'DELL: Because they may not always be able to look at it objectively. And even though they try to separate themselves from being emotionally tied to this, you have a mine operator-owner who has employees there, and he's under a lot of stress and strain to get these guys out. And so sometimes you have to bring out outside experts to help you look at the situation objectively.

WHITFIELD: So then, now...

O'DELL: And that should have been done from the beginning.

WHITFIELD: So, then, now, is it too late, in your opinion, then, to bring in these outside experts that you speak of? Is there a way in which to resume these underground operations in a safe manner?

O'DELL: I think that's things that we have to explore. There's a lot of other -- I mean, since this whole thing has started, we got phone calls at our main office. People say, how come we're not using tunneling machines? How come we're not using tunnel liners.

How come -- I mean, there's a lot of different ideas that should be brought into this that people can look at. And then, of course, at the end you have to evaluate to make sure it is going to be something that can work, because there's a lot of ideas out there for one reason or another that may sound good, but it may not be effective.

But there's never -- I always say -- my dad has always taught me, there's no such thing as a dumb idea. If somebody has something they want to bring to you, to the table, you should listen to it, look at it objectively and see if it will work, because the more people you have thinking and trying to work this process out, the more successful we can be.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dennis O'Dell, head of the health and safety for the United Mine Workers of America.

We appreciate your time.

O'DELL: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Some other issues that have certainly come up in Utah. One of them is the so-called warning weeks earlier that the mine could pose a problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These miners shouldn't have been put in this position to even have to be rescuing these six miners.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, could all of this have been prevented?

The story next on this special edition, "Tragedy at crandall Canyon Mine".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD STICKLER, DIRECTOR, MINE SAFETY & HEALTH ADMIN.: We all agreed and there was consensus that the plan that we were -- had developed and implemented provided the maximum safety for the workers that we knew to be available. Obviously, it was not adequate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: That's Richard Stickler, the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. You will hear from him again live at 6:00 Eastern Time, where a press conference is expected from the command center on the very latest of their efforts.

Meantime, he was giving his opinions about the conditions of the Crandall Canyon Mine just yesterday. It is a view that does not sit well with some mine safety experts who claim that federal regulators responsible for protecting miners failed miserable in this case.

Here now is CNN's Joe Johns. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Did it have to happen is the question being asked today.

BOB BUTERO, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA: These miners shouldn't have been put in this position to even have to be rescuing these six miners. Them six miners shouldn't have been put in this position. And these people that died last night shouldn't have been put in this position.

JOHNS: One issue is whether the mine operators got a big warning about instability in the mine months before the collapse trapped six miners last week, and whether, given that warning, federal regulators should have ever signed off on plans allowing miners to continue here.

Tony Oppegard, a former top official of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, says the big warning was a seismic event, which miners call a bump, that occurred in early March of this year.

TONY OPPEGARD, MINE SAFETY EXPERT: That bump in March was so severe, that it damaged the mine for a distance of close to 800 feet, and the mine had to discontinue the retreat mining, or pillaring operations on that north barrier.

JOHNS: But the company wanted to continue mining on the south side of the mine, so it enlisted a consultant. The consultant report, obtained by CNN, said mining could continue safely if the company substantially increased the size of support pillars to hold up the mine's roof.

The company even submitted a roof support plan to federal regulators, who approved it in June.

The consultant who put together the report, Agapito Associates, declined to comment and referred us to the mine owner.

And the CEO of Murray Energy has said the mining plan was rock solid.

BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, MURRAY ENERGY: I can tell you without a doubt, number one, the mining plan was researched by a number of outside engineering firms and recommended. Number two, the plan was approved by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Number three, there were no violations of laws.

JOHNS: Now, though, an employee of the very federal agency that signed off on the mining plan is among the dead. And the question is whether that mining plan should have been approved at all, especially since it involved a controversial and some say hazardous form of mining.

It's called retreat mining. That means knocking down and harvesting the pillars of coal that were left in place to support the roof during the initial phase of mining. Some say cutting down those pillars and collapsing the mine along the way destabilizes the whole mountain. OPPEGARD: There's no requirement that pillars be -- be extracted. It's very dangerous to do so. And the only reason to do so is to -- to produce more coal and make more money. And that's the sole reason for it.

JOHNS: Mine owner Bob Murray has denied that retreat mining was a factor in the accident.

MURRAY: Retreat mining had absolutely nothing to do with the disaster that happened here, nor was there any retreat mining happening at the time of the disaster.

JOHNS (on camera): The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration did not return our calls, but has said that the cause of the accident can't be determined until investigators get a chance to do their work. And, at this point, the mine is still the subject of a rescue operation.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Well, this incident is also putting lawmakers in the spotlight, including this man, Congressman Jim Matheson. Could this have been prevented? We'll ask him right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Hello again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Welcome back to this special edition of the CNN NEWSROOM, "Tragedy at Crandall Canyon".

Here's the latest on the efforts to find the six miners.

Rescue workers are pinning their hopes on a fourth hole drilled into the mine's deepest depths. The effort to tunnel toward the miners remains on hold after Thursday night's fatal collapse.

The three rescue workers who died, they've been identified today as miners Dale Black and Brandon Kimber and federal mine inspector Gary Jensen.

And at 6:00 Eastern Time, we'll take you to Huntington, Utah, where we're expecting an update from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Well, mining is a dangerous job. And this tragedy at Crandall Canyon is raising serious questions about the safety of mine workers in general. Can federal legislation help?

Joining us now from Salt Lake City, Congressman Jim Matheson. His district includes the Crandall County mining community.

Good you can be with us, Congressman.

REP. JIM MATHESON (D), UTAH: Well, thank you.

WHITFIELD: So, first off, in your view, do you see that this rescue effort in any way violated any laws?

MATHESON: Well, I think those are questions that are going to have to be asked and answered. You know, Congress just passed a very comprehensive mine safety law in the past year. And it's in the process of being implemented over time. It's getting phased in. But those are all important questions to be asking.

WHITFIELD: Which stems from -- which stemmed from the Sago tragedy. But there have been some critics even of that legislation who are saying that there should have been better communication involving these miners, something that came about from legislation post the Sago.

So, what's happening here? Why should a miner go into their job, which we all know is dangerous, and not feel confident that folks above ground are going to be able to contact them if there's trouble?

MATHESON: Well, I would think a miner would want to have that type of communication capability. And the Miner Act the Congress passed is supposed to pursue that. We're going to have to take a look at what happened in this situation and why that communication wasn't in place yet.

Any time you have one of these tragedies, it's incumbent upon all of us to ask questions about, why did this happen, is there a better way to do things, and what can we learn from this? And that's what's going to happen from this one as well.

WHITFIELD: What's going to be your greatest push now given that this is your district? And when you go to Washington to tackle this topic, what's the one thing that you will try to push for greatest?

MATHESON: Well, I represent all of coal country in Utah. And there are a lot of these mines in my congressional district. And so, I'm going to be thinking about the health and safety of my constituents.

They go in those mines every day. I've been in the coal mines in Utah. I know what that's like.

I can't say I'd work there every day. It takes a special -- special personality to deal with that. But my objective is going to be to make sure that folks who go in those mines and work there every day have the best confidence they can have that it's a safe situation.

WHITFIELD: Do you agree that the underground operations should have been suspended indefinitely?

MATHESON: Well, you know, with the tragedy with the three rescue workers being killed, I think they had to suspend it at that time. It was such an unstable situation, so I do agree that that was the right decision at the point.

I hope we can find a way to reach the other six. And I guess we all hope that, too.

WHITFIELD: So then I wonder, what now? Do you entertain the thought, the notion of abandoning efforts all together and saying it's just simply too dangerous for anyone to try to risk their lives to try to see if these six miners are indeed still alive?

MATHESON: Well, I don't think I'm prepared to entertain that thought. And of course it's really not my call. But I do think that, you know, all the experts need to come together and make an assessment about what the risk really is of trying to continue with the recovery operation.

The fourth bore hole has been completed today. They're going to put the casing in it now and then they'll lower the camera in. We'll see if there's more information from that. That may help dictate the decision about what the next steps are going to be.

WHITFIELD: Do you feel that this really should be the only, I guess, source of communication or way in which to investigate this void, a camera through a bore hole? Are you satisfied that this is the best that can be done?

MATHESON: Well, again, I'm not the expert on how you get down under the surface 2,000 feet to reach people. But I do think that we ought to consult any expert that's out there, look for any way we can try to get hold of these folks and determine if they're dead or alive.

We're all looking to say, whatever options are out there, we should be looking at them.

WHITFIELD: Does this incident underscore that mining in America is in trouble, or is this, along with Sago, perhaps, isolated incidents in terms of how potentially deadly this one may be and certainly how deadly Sago was?

MATHESON: Well, I think that mining is an inherently dangerous business. And if federal regulations are followed properly and we make sure they're in the right place, then we're going to have to move ahead.

You know, 60 percent of the electricity in this country comes from coal. It is essential resource for this country and for our economy. And we should do everything we can do to make sure we can access that resource in a safe way.

WHITFIELD: Congressman Matheson, thanks so much for your time.

MATHESON: OK. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well, as you have already seen, emotions are running extremely high in Utah.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT & CEO, MURRAY ENERGY CORP.: I don't know whether these miners are alive or dead. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The intense pressure to make sure the mines are safe, coming up in this special edition, "Tragedy at Crandall Canyon Mine".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Straight ahead, in "Tragedy at Crandall Canyon Mine," we're going to explore how the mining industry can be assured of its safety given what has taken place here. And what should families of miners expect?

They've had so much confidence in their mining industry that perhaps once their loved ones go into a mine, that certainly their safety would be assured. We're going to explore all those options straight ahead.

Also, much more ahead in the NEWSROOM later on, hosted by Tony Harris.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Beginning at 5:00 Eastern Time.

We know that there is a press conference at 6:00 p.m. out of Utah.

HARRIS: At 6:00. Yes, we will certainly drive you to that. But we're going to follow your coverage.

Great job, by the way, on Dean. And we'll follow that and follow the track in the cone of uncertainty.

Jacqui Jeras will be here with us all evening long. We will do that.

Dan Lothian, his parents are in Jamaica. And as you know, at this point the storm is expected to make direct impact on the island of Jamaica.

WHITFIELD: That's next.

HARRIS: Absolutely. After Haiti. So Dan is reaching out to his folks to make sure they're OK, anything that they might need.

WHITFIELD: Great.

HARRIS: Dan will join us at 10:00 with his conversation with his folks.

But, of course, first and foremost, we will drive folks through that 6:00 news conference, where we will get the latest news on the Crandall Canyon Mine and efforts to get that fourth bore hole drilled and hopefully get some good news.

WHITFIELD: Right.

And for the most part, we're hearing in the 6:00 Eastern press conference that it will be driven, too, by the Mine Safety and Health Administration...

HARRIS: Richard Stickler, absolutely.

WHITFIELD: ... as opposed to in concert with the Murray Energy Corporation. So this might be a little different from what we've been seeing.

HARRIS: Yes. So that's coming up. And just -- that's at 6:00, but we will join you at 5:00.

Fred, take it away.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks, Tony.

HARRIS: Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: We'll look for it.

Well, coming up, some of the more poignant moments from the "Tragedy at Crandall Canyon Mine".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Mining is dangerous work. You know that. Safety always a big issue. Critics say the Crandall Canyon Mine is more risky, however, than the others.

Here now is our own Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The boss of the six trapped miners, speaking with the cadence of a preacher, and delivering words suited to a preacher.

MURRAY: I don't know whether these miners are alive or dead. Only the Lord knows that.

TUCHMAN: Of course, if they're alive, the miners know that, too, but would have no way of letting the rest of the world know, because of the tons of rock between them and rescuers.

MURRAY: They are 1,500 feet underground. They are 2,000 feet from the closest access to them.

TUCHMAN: And Rescuers have not gotten that much closer since this all began, according to Murray who owns mines in five states.

(on camera): In your opinion, do you think these guys are still alive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I really do.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Mike Garcia used to work in the same non- union mine and has been in the exact same part of the mine where the six trapped men are now believed to be. He says not only should they have plenty of oxygen and water, but he believes they have a good deal of food with them too.

MIKE GARCIA, FORMER MINER: Everybody goes down and they pack a big lunch. They got a big, big lunch box and they'd always pack (inaudible) sweets and you know, extra food because sometimes we -- if one of the guys in another crew don't show up, we can work the extra hours, you know. And that's why we always pack a big lunch.

TUCHMAN: The Crandall Canyon Mine has received more than 300 safety citations since 2004, including one recently for not adequately providing at least two exit routes in the mine.

But in this risky industry, government figures indicate those numbers are relatively low compared to other similar mines.

Garcia is now on long-term disability after he says a high voltage cable struck him while he was in the mine.

GARCIA: It hit me right in the back of the neck and knocked me down on top of the toolbox and I got L4 and L5 discs on my back messed up.

TUCHMAN: He's also had arguments with lower-level mine managers. Nevertheless, he believes Crandall Canyon is a safe place to work.

GARCIA: We had safety meetings, and they also said in the safety meetings if there's anything that we could think of that would make anything safer for the workers, you know, they didn't have a problem with us speaking out. They'd ask us.

TUCHMAN: The mine owner, during a rambling preamble to his news conference, criticized some of the news coverage of the story.

This past June he had a testy exchange on Capitol Hill during a hearing on power plants and global warming before a Senate committee.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: We read here in the "Columbus Dispatch" of Ohio, you own the two largest mines which recorded injury rates about a fourth higher than the national average. So, you know, let's not have a double standard about how much you care about people. And -- and that's all I'll say on the point. But if you...

MURRAY: Madam Chairman, I'm going to respond to that. You are flat out wrong.

BOXER: Fine.

MURRAY: That...

BOXER. Fine.

MURRAY: ... that information came from your friends at the United Mine Workers and the unions. It is not fair.

(CROSSTALK)

MURRAY: Today, my safety record at my coal mines -- and I take it to bed with me every night. And I resent you bringing this in.

TUCHMAN: And he continues to defend his safety record, saying he's sure an earthquake caused the collapse. Whether that's true or whether the collapse caused the seismic reading, still has not been determined.

MURRAY: We are focused at remaining at the Crandall Canyon site until these miners are recovered, dead or alive.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Emery County, Utah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Mine rescue experts say that the rescue operation at the Crandall Canyon is very complex. And they're not sure what role exactly seismic activity could play in further rescue efforts if they, indeed, resume.

Robert Ferriter is with the Colorado School of Mines in Denver.

Mr. Ferriter, let's first focus on seismic activity. Is it your belief that seismic activity had something to do with both of the collapses?

ROBERT FERRITER, COLORADO SCHOOL OF MINES: No. I don't think an earthquake caused either collapse.

WHITFIELD: Really?

FERRITER: In my opinion -- yes. In my opinion, the seismic signal that was picked up at the University of Utah, I think that was mining- induced by the removal of the coal and overloading the pillars that were remaining in there. So, I think by stressing those, you have what we call a bounce or a pillar failure in there, and that is known to show up on seismographs.

We had a similar type of failure in the (INAUDIBLE) mine in Green River, Wyoming, in 1995 in which I investigated. And everybody says, "It's an earthquake, it's an earthquake." But after the seismologists and the geophysicists analyzed the seismic waves, you know, it wasn't. It was mining-induced, and it failed from the mining activity.

WHITFIELD: So, if this is mining-induced activity, indeed, and before any of their mining operations get under way, would Murray Energy or any other mining group know about that kind of activity, know about those potential vulnerabilities, and suspend going in as a result of such activity, whether it was seismic activity or whether it was, indeed, mining induced?

FERRITER: Well, I think Murray Energy or any coal mining company that operates in the Price, Utah, area in those coal fields is well aware of the bump conditions out in those -- in that area. They are not uncommon. They happen.

The geology is favorable to producing a bump. And all those -- just about all those coal mines out there experience those, but they are able to control them by using a good mining plan.

WHITFIELD: So it sounds like you're also saying, then, they would try to ascertain big bumps versus small bumps to determine whether it is, indeed, safe to resume their activity?

FERRITER: Well, the objective is, of course, no bumps, OK? But they do sometimes occur. And the way to control those is to leave big enough barrier pillars to protect your miners and try to have those bumps occur somewhere else away from where the actual miners are working.

WHITFIELD: So, bottom line, all of this, in your opinion, could have been prevented?

FERRITER: I believe it could have, yes.

WHITFIELD: All right.

Robert Ferriter with the Colorado School of Mines in Denver.

Thank you so much for your expertise.

And at 6:00 Eastern Time, we will bring you a news conference live from the Mine Safety and Health Administration being led by the head of that administration, Richard Stickler. We'll carry that live for you.

The backbone of the United States, miners. What is it like in their world? A firsthand account straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The mayor of Huntington, Utah -- so what is life like in a mining town? Someone who knows, Homer Hickam, Jr. If the name doesn't rng a bell, this might...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "OCTOBER SKY")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you want to know about rockets?

JAKE GYLLENHAAL, ACTOR: Everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy -- it's headed for the mine.

GYLLENHAAL: There's nothing here for me! The town is dying, the mine is dying. Everybody knows it here but you!

(END VIDEO CLIP, "OCTOBER SKY")

WHITFIELD: A scene from "October Sky". All about the mining industry. It is also a lot about the life of Homer Hickam, what it was like growing up in the coal mining towns of West Virginia.

And we're fortunate enough to have Mr. Hickam join us by phone from Huntsville, Alabama. So, you really can help us understand, Mr. Hickam, what this is about. This is not just a job, mining. It really is about a culture, isn't it?

HOMER HICKAM, AUTHOR, "OCTOBER SKY": Well, it very much is.

I grew up in a little town in Coalwood, West Virginia, and I ended up writing four memoirs about it. So, growing up there, I didn't think it was anything special, but looking back on it, I realized it was.

The people there, they had a special way about them. They were proud of who they were. They stood up for what they believed. They kept their families together. They trusted in God but relied on themselves.

And so, looking back, I think that I was in the company of some -- some great men and women.

WHITFIELD: And so, as this is unfolding in Utah, this really hits home for you, doesn't it? You know what each and every family member and fellow miner is going through.

HICKAM: Yes. I've been there. I've stood at the temple (ph) with my mom and the other people of the town, and looked down that shaft and waited with hope that everything would be OK when there was an accident down there. And generally it was.

My dad ran a very safe mine, but sometimes people -- miners were killed. And -- but great lessons were learned back in the 1940s and 1950s that my dad and the men that worked with him discovered. And gradually, over a period of time, coal mining became safer.

But obviously we still have a way to go. We still have these accidents. But coal miners, they are a special type of people who absolutely love what they do. Being underground to them is their chosen profession.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

HICKAM: They are proud that they are the backbone of the United States. They are proud that the whole nation relies on them to produce the energy in order to keep our economy going.

WHITFIELD: And so, Mr. Hickam, while this is a chosen profession, at the same time you underscore the danger of yesteryear, the dangers that exist today. People still have a hard time understanding why in many circles this is a tradition that's passed on from generation to generation.

You talk about your father, your grandfather as well. This really is something that is all in the family in so many mining communities.

HICKAM: Well, it is. My grandfather lost both his legs in the mine. My father ultimately died of black lung. All my uncles worked in the coal mine. You know, I -- they recognized that at least in southern West Virginia it was a dying profession. And as it turned out, 80 percent of the kids in my school at Coalwood went to and graduated from college and went off and did other things.

So we know that we come from a great heritage. And it makes us proud of who we are as well.

And we like to pass along to the world our pride in who our parents and grandparents were and how necessary it is that the profession of coal mining keep going. But we do need to make it safer in every way that we possibly can.

WHITFIELD: And we'll end it there.

Homer Hickam, thank you so much. People know your name from "October Sky".

Appreciate it.

HICKAM: You bet.

WHITFIELD: When we come back, powerful images from the tragedy at Crandall Canyon Mine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Residents in the tight-knit community of Huntington, Utah, are torn between hope and despair right now, but they're showing their concern with a fund-raising concert for the victims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello everyone. And welcome to the Hope in the Park benefit for the miners' families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody knows a coal miner here. And we all stick together. We support each other in everything that there is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good that everybody will get out here and support a cause like this. Everybody needs to get out and do more for these coal miners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're all feeling the grief. We all have -- most of us have family members in these coal mines. So we can identify with the families. And I think we have to stick together and continue to have hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't imagine my husband getting trapped up there. I'd go crazy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: It continues to be a real tough time for the folks in Huntington, Utah.

And at 6:00 Eastern Time, we'll bring you live an update from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. That's at 6:00 Eastern.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Up next, Tony Harris in the NEWSROOM.

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