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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Hope and Heartbreak: Inside the Sago Mine Tragedy; Chronology Of Events Before, During And After Sago Mine Disaster

Aired January 06, 2006 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to thank our international viewers for watching. A special edition of 360 is just ahead. We'll go inside the Sago Mine tragedy. What really happened? And could it have been prevented? What were the final moments inside the mine like for the victims? That's next on 360.


ANNOUNCER: A close-knit community, rocked by tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not know what caused this explosion.

ANNOUNCER: A race against time for survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until you hear them say, yes, they're all safe. We got them, you're just afraid. Like I'm scared to death.

ANNOUNCER: A tragic twist, as prayers turn to a miracle. A miracle that turns to tears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us.

ANNOUNCER: The story of a community.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just wanted the truth and I wanted the truth up front.

ANNOUNCER: The story inside the mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just before I went in, I heard that that was serious.

ANNOUNCER: Hope and heartbreak. Inside the Sago Mine tragedy.



COOPER: It was a 44-hour odyssey of desperation, prayers, heart- breaking reversals; and ultimately, despair. The explosion at the Sago Coal Mine here in West Virginia trapped 13 miners on Monday. The desperate rescue mission that followed went on for nearly two days and for a brief moment, it appeared that a miracle had indeed happened. In the end, tragedy.

The grief felt by those here is shared across the nation, but especially in places like Somerset, Pennsylvania and Brookwood, Alabama, towns that know all too well the dangers of mining.

Over the next hour, hope and heartbreak. Inside the Sago Mine Tragedy.


COOPER (voice-over): Upshur County, West Virginia, home of the Sago Mine. Peaceful and tranquil on the surface. Violent underneath.

One billion tons of coal are mined each year in the United States, most of it to make electricity. Upshur County, especially the tiny community of Tallmansville, now knows the feeling when the worst happens.

Other communities where coal means jobs and coal means money know that feeling well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will remember the fallen miners.

COOPER: Communities like Brookwood, Alabama. Somerset, Pennsylvania. Recent coal mining accidents. In one, the miners got out. In the other, they did not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hard life, scary life. Always waiting on accidents. What's new, huh?

COOPER: Visit a place like the Coal Miners Cafe in Somerset or the Donut Shop near the Sago Mine, you'll understand how an accident like this can affect a small community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just about everybody here either has a relative or knows someone, you know friend, something, that either has worked at the mine or is working at the mine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Families still need jobs to stay in West Virginia; and coal mining, unfortunately, is one of the better-paying jobs.

COOPER: Donut Shop Owner Richard Kamagees (ph) wanted to do something. He struggled to put up a sign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody here, they knew these people in some way. Some of them came to the shop pretty regular here. It's just hard. Just hard.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a picture him here?


KAYE: Do you want to show that to us?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are two different pictures of him in the mines.

COOPER: CNN's Randi Kaye spent some time with the family of Fred Ware (ph), one of the miners killed at Sago. Fred worked on Monday to earn some extra holiday pay.

His daughter, Peggy Cohen (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's totally committed to the mines. Has been since he was 18 years old. My grandfather was a miner, and that's all he wanted to do. He never pursued to do anything else. He did what his dad did.

He'd bring my kids pieces of coal out and he'd say, look, there's a fossil. And he'd show them how to put clear fingernail polish on to bring out what looked like a fossil.

KAYE: Was there ever a time when you worried about your dad in the mines?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, all the time. You know, and he was getting older, and you know, he didn't move as quick.

KAYE: Did he ever worry about dying in the mine?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said -- no, he never -- I don't think he ever worried. He said that's where he would die.

COOPER: In communities across the country where coal means jobs and coal means money, they hope never to see the day they saw here in Tallmansville.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A big boom. I tell you what, it shook houses all around here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A huge white light and a few seconds later, it's like somebody set off a powder keg.


COOPER: Monday morning, January 2. As the day dawned, workers at the Sago Mine began their first workday of the New Year. But the early morning calm was suddenly shattered.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: This just in to CNN, news out of West Virginia. A mine explosion, underground explosion at a coal mine there.

COOPER: A freak explosion ripped through the mine. Six miners made it out alive, 13 others trapped 260 feet below ground.

CALLER: Be advised, we're being informed -- we are on scene -- we're being informed that there are several men trapped inside. We're going to need a lot of help.

COOPER: The two-mile entrance to the mine was filled with deadly gases. Rescue crews could do nothing. It was the only way in or out. West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin was in Atlanta for a University of West Virginia football game. When he heard the news, he immediately headed back.

GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I'm sure all the families have gathered together now and they're all pulling their strength from within, praying for the best and I want them to know the state's doing everything -- the government's doing everything humanly possible to make sure that we have a safe conclusion to this.

COOPER: Manchin is no stranger to mining mishaps. He lost his own uncle and many of his childhood friends in the West Virginia mining accident of 1968. Seventy-eight men died.

As word spread from the Sago Mine, families began to huddle and pray in the Sago Baptist Church.


COOPER: The plight of Sago's trapped miners resonated at another church in Brookwood Alabama, a tight-knit mining town that knows the agony of watching and waiting. On September 23, 2001, underground explosions left this town praying for a miracle.

JOHN WATHEN, BROOKWOOD RESIDENT: In leading in prayers at the union hall, we still had confidence that they would survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I was just like everybody else, hoping that there was going to be a miracle; that they would have been in another part of the mine when the blast took place. There's corridors down there they could have been in. There was a lot of things that you could pray for and we did.

WANDA BLEVINS, WIDOW: And I'd know in my mind, I kept saying, well, this is not going to be bad. This won't be bad because David knows exactly what he's doing. He's a good miner. He has been working in the mines for 34 years. So I know this won't be bad. And I know that God won't let nothing happen.

COOPER: Coming just 12 days after September 11, the Brookwood tragedy had its own heroes, a team of miners braved fire to rescue a trapped co-worker. David Blevins led the way.

BLEVINS: The men loved David at this mine and David was the kind of boss that wouldn't ask a man to do something that he wouldn't do.

GARY YOUNGBLOOD, PASTOR: And I know Mr. Dave Blevins probably knew more about rescue than anybody else and he knew the danger, but they were ready to go and they were ready to go try to rescue a fallen brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could see the wind coming up the track. It looked like a tornado on the ground, spinning sideways.

COOPER: When a second explosion engulfed the tunnels, Miner Ricky Rose was left with no other option than to save his own life. RICKY ROSE, BROOKWOOD MINE SURVIVOR: And when that happened, it blew me -- I don't know, 75 feet through there. I jumped up, didn't know where I was at, didn't know if I was dead or alive. Couldn't see my hand in front of me. Put your hand right there and you couldn't see it. All I could hear was people screaming and hollering. And I didn't know which way to run, didn't know where to go. I was scared to death. I was petrified.

COOPER: Thirteen bodies were pulled out of the Brookwood Mine.

BLEVINS: You just don't believe it. You just -- in my case, I guess I just refused to believe it. You just think that this can't happen to you. You know that your husband has got 34 years in the mines. He knows what to do, so you just think how can this possibly happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the blast in West Virginia was re- lived the minute that it was aired here. I think it ripped open all the old wounds. My heart went out instantly to the people in West Virginia, but to my friends here too. I could feel for them, having to go through this again. To have all of this flash back in their face.

COOPER: Communities united not only by tragedy, but by faith.

YOUNGBLOOD: There was people praying all night long in Brookwood, Alabama, for those families and for those miners, that there was still hope. They were praying that they would survive, somehow or the other.


COOPER: Monday evening, Governor Manchin was now on the ground and receiving updates from Sago.

MANCHIN: I understood, we have a crew down in? You make sure you call me back and brief me before I go to that church because people will be asking me questions. Is anybody talking to the families at all?

COOPER: Preparing to meet with the families for the first time, Governor Manchin had hoped to deliver good news.

MANCHIN: The rescue team's allowed to go back in. That means the air quality had to be good enough so there was no danger to them, or a very minimal danger. That's a good sign.

COOPER: But information was still hard to come by.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: How much information have you been given about your brother and the fate of those trapped inside?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, right now we know that my brother, Terry, was the first one in the mines early this morning.

COOPER: As day one came to an end, the family of trapped miner Terry Helms was holding onto hope. 50-year-old Terry Helms wanted a better life for his son, Nick, a life away from the coal mines. But now, Nick was back, helping his family keep the faith.

NICK HELMS, SON OF TRAPPED MINER: He's going to get out of there.


HELMS: I know he is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants to get out of here for you guys and Virginia.

HELMS: Until you hear them say, yes, they're all safe, we got them, everybody's safe, you're just afraid. Like I'm scared to death.

COOPER: When I caught up with the family this week, all they could do was wait.

But the sitting still is the hardest part?

MICHELLE MAUSER, TERRY HELM'S NIECE: Right. And waiting for those two hours to go by that they're going to come and update you.

COOPER: Do you look forward to these meetings or do you dread them?

MAUSER: Yes, in a way, I do; then, in a way, I don't because you know, you don't want to keep hearing bad news each time they come out, but you know, you got to expect the worst.

N. HELMS: I'll wait here as long as it takes. I won't be leaving.

COOPER: Waiting, that would only get worse.



SOPHIA CHOI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Sophia Choi of "HEADLINE NEWS." A special edition of 360, Hope and Heartbreak, Inside the Sago Mine Tragedy, continues in just a moment, but first, here are some of the headlines at this moment.

After three rounds of brain surgery, Israel's Ariel Sharon continues to cling to life. The 77-year-old remains unconscious and in grave condition at a hospital in Jerusalem.

In Washington, Congressional Aides said today that about two dozen Republicans have promised to sign a petition, calling for elections to permanently replace Representative Tom DeLay, as majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. Fifty House Republican signatures are needed to call elections, which would occur after the House reconvenes on January 31. And an awful scene in Chicago, where the Pilgrim Baptist, one of the oldest black churches on the south side and considered by many to be the birth place of gospel music, went up in flames today, sending plumes of black smoke high into the sky and destroying the landmark building. There's no word on what caused that fire.

And the great Soul Singer Lou Rawls has died at the age of 72. Rawls, a native of Chicago, won three Grammy awards and sold 40 million copies of songs like, "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," and "Bring it On Home to Me."

A special edition of 360 on the Sago Mine tragedy continues in just a moment.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is something you'd like to tell the viewers at home who's watching right now?


COOPER: By Tuesday morning, the 13 coal miners trapped deep inside the Sago Mine would need those prayers. Rescuers had drilled narrow holes into the mine and what they found was discouraging. Lethal levels of carbon monoxide.

HATFIELD: There is hope that they could be in another location or they could be barricaded somewhere, protected from that level of carbon monoxide, but certainly if they were in this particular location, that's not an environment that would sustain life.

COOPER: And more grim news soon followed. A camera and microphone lowered into the mine found no sign of the miners.

MIKE ROSS, COORDINATED DRILLING EFFORTS: Once we drilled into the mines, then we lowered the drill pipe down in the mine. We shut all the engines down and listened for sound, hoping to hear something. We didn't hear anything. So then we took a hammer and was beating on the side of the drill pipe to send out a signal. And we still received nothing back.

COOPER: Drilling these holes didn't begin until 20 hours after the explosion, leaving many experts to ask why hadn't rescue efforts begun sooner?

DAVITT MCATEER, MINE SAFETY EXPERT: The enemy of a most successful rescue is time. And the fact to assembling the teams at the site and bringing the drills in at the site was a troubling kind of experience.

COOPER: With no apparent sign of life inside the mine, friends and families stayed huddled inside the Sago Baptist Church, still hoping for a miracle. TERRI GOFF, FRIEND OF TRAPPED MINER: WE cried a little bit. We realized that there's still hope. They could be stuck in another place and they're going to drill in another place and maybe, well we can still find these guys.

MAUSER: I'd just like for everybody to keep praying for everybody's family and my family and just keep their spirits up and just pray that there's one last miracle out there.

COOPER: With every crucial second, rescuers dug deeper and faster. By mid morning, rescue teams had reached the 10,000 foot mark. The miners were believed trapped between 11,000 and 13,000 feet from the mine entrance.

An hour later, rescuers moved ahead of a search robot that was exploring areas thought to be too dangerous for humans. Still no sign of the miners.

Officials were pampered with questions throughout the day. How did it happen? Was the blast caused by lightning?

HATFIELD: We do not know what caused this explosion. It doesn't make sense to us that the methane levels are low everywhere we go and yet we had an explosion that seems to resemble a methane explosion.

COOPER: Last year the Sago Mine was cited for more than 200 safety violations, some of them considered significant and substantial by inspectors. Among them, at least 16 related to inadequate monitoring of the buildup of explosive gases.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their injury rate is three times the national average. Again, it's another indication that the program you have in place isn't working and that you're having more accidents than you should.

COOPER: Officials with the International Coal Group, who operate the Sago Mine, say they have addressed the violations and improved safety conditions since acquiring the mine last year.

Underground mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. CNN's Gary Tuchman visited a mine at the Colorado School of Mines. He got a firsthand look at what miners and rescuers do in a crisis.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now we are going down the shaft, hundreds of feet into the mine, one of the shafts that go into this mine. And I'm being followed by a student here at the Colorado School of Mines. Bracken Spencer (ph) is coming down.

He's a senior who is majoring in mining engineering. We wear safety gear because is this is still a mine. We have to take the proper precautions, helmets, glasses, boots. We have these devices that convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.

What are these called? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're the W65 self-rescuer, so in case of a fire or buildup in carbon monoxide, a miner will be able to get themselves out safely.

TUCHMAN: Okay, with us is Bob Ferriter. Bob, your title?

BOB FERRITER, DIRECTOR OF MINE SAFETY TRAINING PROGRAM: I'm the director of the Mine Safety Training Program here at the Colorado School of Mines.

TUCHMAN: You train mine rescuers, not just the students, but who else do you train?

FERRITER: We train adults. We train mine rescue teams in coal mines, metal mines. Here in the west, we train DOD personnel and fire departments.

TUCHMAN: Okay, now the smoke that is set up for your students, to give you an idea of what rescuers go through when they're trying to rescue -- you can't see anything, so how are you supposed to find people who are trapped inside of mines?

FERRITER: Well, the first thing we do is we provide the rescue team with maps, where they're going in the mine, so they have a general idea. Secondly, you can follow the rail here. You can see it through the smoke a little bit. You can take and walk along that, so you can follow that. You can grab that compressed air line or water line along the rib. That also gives you some guidance as to where you're going in the mine. And then if you really have to, you can get down on the floor and crawl.

TUCHMAN: How do you communicate? Radios don't work down here. I mean, that's a big issue obviously with this situation, communication.

FERRITER: Yes, most of the time there's hand signals and voice communication. Of course, that's hampered by the fact that you're wearing protective devices, SCBAs, so communication is a problem. It always is a problem.

TUCHMAN: What are SCBAs?

FERRITER: Self contained breathing apparatus. It is with oxygen in the apparatus.

TUCHMAN: These are all things I'm learning today. You were talking about going into another room if you're a miner, to get away from the gases. This is -- you can get an idea about how heavy this door is. Look out, I don't want to hurt you. (Inaudible). This is a place where miners should go if something happened down here.

FERRITER: This could be used as a refuge chamber, yes.

TUCHMAN: But you've set up, though an obstacle course to simulate for rescuers who come in, your students, what it's like to rescue. It's dark in here, with smoke in here. You can see this tunnel. it's very narrow and you're wearing this bulky gear. And I went through here a long -- a little while -- but it took a long time go to through because you can barely fit. And it gives you an idea of when people are trapped, what they go through.

COOPER: Sago Mine officials could only hope the trapped miners had found their own safe location to protect themselves from deadly gases.

By Tuesday afternoon rescue workers were about 1,500 feet from where the miners were trapped. They figured it would take another five hours to reach them. But in this race against time, the prospects of recovery were getting bleak.

MANCHIN: I'm still very optimistic and very hopeful and still praying for that miracle, but our odds are pretty much against us, as you know. It's an uphill fight and the people still have a lot of faith and I do too.

COOPER: Close to midnight, after 41 grueling hours of searching and waiting, those prayers seemed to have been answered.




COOPER: With time slipping away here in West Virginia, families and rescuers prayed for a miracle. And for three short hours it appeared their prayers had been answered.


COOPER (voice-over): The first clear sign of life or death at the Sago Mine came late Tuesday evening.

HATFIELD: Mine rescue crews have also located the body of a miner.

COOPER: But in that tragic news a glimmer of hope, indications that the other 12 may have made it to safety.

MANCHIN: The one body that has been recovered was the one person that was left right there where the force of the blast came. And the 12, the tram was in perfect condition. It was on the tracks. There was no disturbance. There are no buckets. There is no anything, they would have gotten off and walked and taken everything with them.

COOPER: Soon after emergency dispatchers received calls indicating the 12 miners were alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, you might as well just stand still right where you are at, Gary. They did find them and they're all OK, I guess. So I think we might be transporting them. I'm not exactly sure, but we're stuck right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what am I telling them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just tell them that they located 12 and they're bringing them out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they're all alive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as they know, so far.


COOPER: Forty-one hours after the explosion that glimmer of hope became real.

The miners families heard the bells that signaled the miracle they so desperately wanted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god. I was trying to lay down and get some sleep and my daughter comes a knockin' on the van, "Mom, they found Uncle Marshall and he's alive."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And when you first heard the news?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I barefooted. I ran to -- barefooted, to the church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What will you say to Marshall, your brother-in-law, when you see him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I love him and I missed him. I'm so glad he's alive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God! Oh, my God!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a miracle around the world! Anywhere, by golly. The world was waiting for us to see this happen.

COOPER: Waiting for that same miracle that happened just three short years ago, in another small mining town. The summer of 2002, in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Nine coal miners trapped in a flooded mine.

MARK POPERNACK, PA. MINE SURVIVOR: We knew we were trapped the whole time and we couldn't get out. But when the water came right up to us, where we were at, hopes of surviving through that were pretty slim.

HARRY "BLAINE" MAYHUGH, P A. MINE SURVIVOR: We pretty much calculated that we had an hour left. I wrote letters to my wife and kids, just telling them that I love them. That, you know, life goes on and that -- that I would I would always love them. I asked one of the fellow miners if I would still go to heaven being that I wasn't baptized.

COOPER: While these miners faced death, local pastor, Charles Olsen, waited with their families for word, one way or the other.

CHARLES OLSEN, PASTOR: It was a roller coaster ride. One minute you're high, and the next minute you're low.

COOPER: After 77 terrible hours the incredible happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All nine are alive. And we believe that all nine are in pretty good shape and the families now know that.

OLSEN: They said they were about to bring the miners up. Families were asked whether they wanted to see it. And if the families wanted to see it, they said, if you do that the whole world is going to see it. But if you don't want to see it, then the whole world won't see it. So the families collectively, we took a vote there, and the families all agreed that they wanted to be able to watch it on television.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We have just heard that the first of the surviving nine miners has just been pulled out and pulled to safety.

COOPER: It was a miracle for this Pennsylvania mining town. And in Upshur County, West Virginia, another miracle seemed to be happening.


COOPER: Back at the Sago Baptist Church, the miners families celebrated and anxiously waited for their rescued loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They said if they found them alive they would ring the church bell and they did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The church bell has rung.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're alive and they're coming out right now. And they're going to come across that bridge right there in about 15 minutes.


COOPER: Families and a nation rejoiced.

(on camera): There were signs up saying pray for the miners, pray for their families and those prayers certainly seemed to have been answered tonight, a miracle.

(voice-over): Based on the family's account and the governor's statement, newscasts and headlines proclaimed the ordeal was over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A miracle in the mine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So many people so happy here tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is an incredible turn of events. OLSEN: I was watching the news whenever I heard about the 12 miners were found alive and it concerned me a little bit, because nobody official was saying anything. It was just being spread by word of mouth. And I said to them, well, I don't like this.

COOPER: Then after three hours of joyous celebration.

LYNETTE ROBY, LOCAL RESIDENT: There is only one made it out alive. I think they said the other 11 couldn't be saved. I don't know if that is for sure that they're perished or now, but I do know only one is --

COOPER: This is unbelievable.

ROBY: It's totally -- it's the worst thing that I've ever heard of.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God! Oh, my God!

COOPER: Wait a minute, wait a minute, Charlie. Charlie, we have to come back. Come back to us.

ROBY: They're all --

COOPER: Wait, wait. Come here. What's happening?

ROBY: There's only one -- there's only one made it out alive. There is one person alive and he's en route to the hospital.

COOPER: In three short hours jubilation --


COOPER: Replaced by grief and anger. Family members were told the tragic news that 12 of the 13 miners would not be coming home.

HATFIELD: The initial report to the rescue team to the command center indicated multiple survivors. But that information proved to be a miscommunication. The only confirmed survivor is Randal L. McCloy, Jr., who has now been rushed to a local hospital in serious condition. The 11 remaining miners, in the barricade structure, were determined by the medical technicians on the rescue team to have already deceased.

Our hearts and prayers go out to each of the 13 families, we are incredibly saddened by the horrific loss of these fathers, sons, husbands and brothers. This is certainly not the outcome that we had hoped for and prayed for. COOPER: Inside a nearby church, where friends and family had gathered to pray a scene of chaos and confusion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You sons of bitches don't know how to run a mine!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up! Back up the across the line, gentlemen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not right. No they need to know what's going on!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to go!


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mixed communications is what they're blaming it on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is stunned right now. Everybody is stunned and sickened at their stomach. We feel like we've been lied to.

COOPER: The grim reality sent Peggy Cohen into shock. She needed treatment overnight at the hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to see him. Just want to see his pearly blues, I just want to see them. And then going from, oh, my god, I'm going to have to go and identify my dad's body.

KAYE: There was a lot of time that passed between you believing they were alive and then learning that they weren't. What do you think about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Angry. I think that, you know, they could have handled it better. They could have just told us they found them and I think that would have pacified people enough to let them go check to see if they were alive instead of saying, we found them. They're alive. They're coming to you.

And then I'm waiting on the church steps thinking my dad is being brought to me and then see everybody going back into the church and then telling me my dad is dead. You know, I just wanted the truth and I wanted the truth up front.

COOPER: Just a few short hours ago, the community has stood together, rejoicing in song and prayer. News of the tragic twist has now shaken their faith.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're Christian people, ourselves. We have got, some of us, is right down to saying that we don't even know if there is a Lord any more. We had a miracle and it was taken away from us.

COOPER: But there would be one small miracle at the Sago Mine. The rescue of 26-year-old Randal McCloy, Jr. He was found moaning, struggling to breath, but alive.

ER Doctor Robert Blake was the first medical responder to treat McCloy. He talked with CNN's Doctor Sanjay Gupta about McCloy's condition when he reached him inside the mine.

DR. ROBERT BLAKE, ST. JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL: He was having difficulty breathing, he was not awake. He had no movement. And he was working to breath. They -- he also had a pulse. And I could see that his lungs were expanding.

COOPER: Doctor Blake says Randal McCloy's condition was very grave and time was critical.

BLAKE: He was close. He was very close. The oxygen made a huge difference with him.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You think he would have survived without it?

BLAKE: It would not have been long. It would not have been long.

GUPTA: So he was real close to dying.

BLAKE: Oh, absolutely. I made a quick decision that we should rush this gentleman out and because I had more healthcare workers on the outside. At that time, I was understand that there were 11 others still down there alive. So we cleared the way and that bus went on out and we continued on in.

COOPER: Doctor Blake traveled deeper into the mine in search of more survivors. About a mile in, he met two more man buses, the vehicles that transport the miners from the entrance down into the depths of the mines.

BLAKE: I jumped out, because I assumed in my mind that if people were coming out there would be more individuals on those buses. And as I made my way through, I ran to the first bus, and there was no one on it, except rescue workers. And I started my way back toward the second bus and figured they were on it.

And one of the rescue workers who was right behind me, asked where are the other guys? And he said, who? And he said, the survivors. And he goes, there are none except the one we just sent out. And he said what do you mean? And he goes the rest have perished. And that is when we became -- we had the realization that he was the only one.

COOPER: In a community where working thousands of feet beneath the earth is a way of life and the best hope of making a decent paycheck, there are now lots of unanswered questions.

How could the life or death story of the miners get so horribly confused? CNN's Drew Griffin spoke to an administrator for the United Mine Workers of America, who was in the staging area, throughout the ordeal. Dennis O'Dell says the communication got garbled as it was relayed from one team of rescue workers to another.

DENNIS O'DELL, UNITED MINE WORKERS UNION: I can tell you that I talked to the team members, some of the team members that found the bodies. And I can tell you that what they said, was that they found the bodies and one was alive. I can tell you I talked to some of the members who were at the fresh air base.

And what they said was the information that they heard was, we found all the bodies, all are alive. Found all the bodies, one alive. Found all the bodies 12 alive.

COOPER: Mine company President Ben Hatfield didn't know either, but he tried to provide some answers at a press conference he said the mistaken report was heard over a speaker in the command center, which was full of officials, workers and volunteers, all desperate for any bit of good news. The false information quickly spread by cell phone to relatives inside the church.

GENE KITTS, SR. V.P. INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: Management went to everyone, every office, every place and said this is something that we cannot release until we are certain of the facts, so don't communicate anything outside until it is certainly confirmed. But that obviously didn't happen.

O'DELL: Well, for verification purposes, when it comes to life and death instances, no information, regardless of good, bad or indifferent, should ever leave that command center before it is verified by actually seeing individuals who are rescued or actually talking to those individuals that were doing the mine rescue.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that is standard procedure?

O'DELL: Absolutely.

COOPER: Dennis O'Dell says no one should have ever had to endure that kind of emotional roller coaster.

O'DELL: It was just going from the very highest of levels that anybody could be on, to just a gut wrenching sickness in your stomach.

GRIFFIN: But Dennis, that very high level to the gut wrenching, should have stayed in that building.

O'DELL: Exactly. And that's where the failure occurred.

COOPER: Letting the families rejoice for nearly three hours was a mistake, Ben Hatfield admits, but he apologized and reminded the families that it wasn't a malicious act, just a mistake, one that he's replayed over in his head, several times.

HATFIELD: What would I have done differently? I would have personally gone to the church when we got the conflicting information.

COOPER: While it will mostly likely take months before the cause of the explosion that killed the miners is determined, a picture is emerging of what they're final hours were like. Martin Toller, Jr., a husband, father, and life-long veteran of the mines wanted his family to know that he did not suffer. He wrote, tell all I see them on the other side. I love you, he wrote. It wasn't bad, just went to sleep.



CHOI: Hello, I'm Sophia Choi from "Headline News". More on of a special edition of "360: Hope and Heartache Inside the Sago Mine Tragedy," in just a moment. First, though, a look at other stories we're following this moment.

The Arabic language news network, Al-Jazeera, has played a new video from Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant. In it, Ayman al- Zawahiri, calls on President Bush to admit defeat in Iraq. A U.S. counter-terrorism official dismissed this video as, quote, "The same well-worn Jihadist rhetoric."

In Texas, are arsonists responsible for an estimated 70 wildfires that have seared the state in recent weeks? Governor Rick Perry has ordered a inquiry into just that. Since December 26, fires have killed at least three people, destroyed 244 and charred a quarter million acres.

New Orleans' Interstate 10 Bridge over Lake Pontchartrain that was torn apart by Hurricane Katrina, has reopened fully to traffic. A new six-lane bridge is expected to be built in the next three years.

And Florida's so-called bubble gum bandit caught on tape. He struck at a Melbourne video store late Wednesday. Police have linked him to a total of 16 break ins at various locations. His unusual mod of operandi is to sneak in break the bubble gum dispenser and then make off with the change. Authorities say they have some leads, but they're not ready to go public with them just yet.

A special edition of "360: Inside the Sago Mine Tragedy," continues in just a moment.




COOPER (voice-over): With the ringing of a bell, they return to the Sago Baptist Church. Grieving family members, friends, and fellow coal miners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just pray that God will be with them. Be with their family. Give them the strength and the courage to do his will.

COOPER: They raised candles, sang hymns, cried, prayed.


COOPER: And mourned the loss of 12 doomed miners.

The agony in West Virginia was shared throughout the nation's mining communities, no more so than in Brookwood, Alabama.


COOPER: The disaster at the Sago Mine brings back painful memories in Brookwood, memories of a hauntingly similar tragedy that struck here four years ago.

JOHN WATHEN, BROOKWOOD RESIDENT: It was so similar, everything, the scenarios were almost identical. The reality was just overwhelming, totally overwhelming.

I just know that my brother is still trapped in there. (INAUDIBLE)

COOPER: In 2001, 13 men were killed when a pair of explosions ripped through the No. 5 mine in this small town outside of Birmingham.

RICK ROSE, MINE EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: Lest we forget. The cross, the American flag draped over it. I can't forget that day.

COOPER: Rick Rose was in the mine that terrible day and barely got out alive.

ROSE: About all those folks in West Virginia, my heart aches for them. My prayers go out to them. Like I said, it is going on -- starting on five years here, I've not learned to deal with it. And I didn't loose a husband or a brother or an uncle or a cousin or a nephew. I just lost 13 friends.

COOPER: Wanda Blevins and her son, David, also know about suffering. She lost a husband, he lost a father in the Brookwood tragedy.

DAVID BLEVINS, SON OF PERISHED MINER: I still have nightmares going to the top of that hill, seeing the helicopters and the ambulances and blue lights. It is something you'll never, ever get out of your mind.

COOPER: Despite her enormous loss, Wanda Blevins has these words of comfort for those struggling in West Virginia.

WANDA BLEVINS, WIDOW OF PERISHED MINER: I would tell them to trust in God. Stand strong and be West Virginians, be proud. Because I'm going to tell you, coal miners are truly a special breed of people and that we have to be absolutely ashamed of nothing. That their husbands are truly heroes.

COOPER: Brookwood, Alabama, Somerset, Pennsylvania, and now, Tallmansville, West Virginia. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ask that you be with the families; ask that you touch their hearts and let them know that we're thinking about them.

COOPER: Three major mining accidents in less than five years. And yet, when the media trucks and camera crews are gone from this latest disaster, the miners will return, despite the dangers. Like most, they have families, and coal is in their blood.

STEVE MILLIGAN, EMERGENCY MGNT. UPSHUR CO.: I have friends who have children who want to go work in the mines. Will this incident change their opinion? It may. But these are three-, fourth- generation miners. You know their father worked in mines, brother worked in the mines. They are going to work in the mines. It's a good job, it's good money. And it's good for the economy.

COOPER: Almost everyone in this small community is connected somehow, through their faith, their families, their strength and now, through their grief. But they are also connected by this: coal. And the dangers and risks of mines like this one in Tallmansville, West Virginia. Risks that aren't going away any time soon.

I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for joining us.