Miners still missing after West Virginia blast

Rescuers drilled a first hole into a coal mine where 25 people died in an explosion but got no response from possible survivors when they banged on the drill pipe today to send a signal.

Three more vents needed to be bored to release poison gases before searchers could look for four people still missing in the worst US mining accident in over two decades.

Govenor Joe Manchin said the first hole reached the Upper Big Branch Mine after boring through about 332 metres of earth and rock. Rescuers banged on the drill pipe for 15 minutes in hopes of being heard below ground.



"We did not get any response back," Manchin said at an early morning briefing. Officials said they also planned to set off a small explosion on the surface to send a seismic signal down to the mine.



The company that runs the mine, Massey Energy Co., frequently sidesteps hefty fines by aggressively contesting safety violations, including recent problems with the ventilation system that clears away combustible methane gas.



Bombarding federal regulators with appeals is an increasingly common industry tactic since the 2006 Sago mine disaster that killed 12 led to stiffer fines and new enforcement to punish the worst offenders, according to an Associated Press review of records from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.



Massey is still contesting more than a third of all its violations at the Montcoal, West Virginia, mine since 2007. In the past year, federal inspectors have proposed more than $1 million in fines for violations at the mine. Only 16 per cent have been paid.



Federal regulators planned to review its violations, many of which involved venting methane gas. If the odourless, colourless gas is not kept at safe levels, a small spark can ignite it.



In an interview yesterday with AP, Massey CEO Don Blankenship downplayed the link between the ventilation system and the accident.



"I don't know that MSHA thought there was a problem," he said.



Manchin said the first drill hole entered the section of the mine about a football field's length away from a rescue chamber where officials hope the miners sought refuge from toxic gas.



Two days after the blast that also left two hospitalized, the buildup of methane gas and carbon monoxide was too dangerous for anyone to enter and look for the missing or to recover the bodies of 18 known dead.



Crews continued to drill three additional holes, all of which are meant to monitor the section's air and ventilate it with high pressure fans.



Seven bodies were brought out after Monday afternoon's blast rocked the mine.



Once the mine is ventilated, teams would need four or five hours to reach the area where officials believe the miners are about 300 metres beneath the surface, said Chris Adkins, chief operating officer for Massey Energy Co., which owns the mine. The long section is about six metres wide with barely enough room to stand, a safety official said.



Searchers would have to navigate in the darkness around debris from structures shattered by the explosion and around sections of track that were "wrapped like a pretzel," said Kevin Stricklin, an administrator from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.



"There's so much dirt and dust and everything is so dark that it's very easy, as hard as it may seem to any of us outside in this room, to walk by a body," Stricklin said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory