Miners' Medical Condition Better Than Expected

Nine miners, apparently in good health despite spending three days underground, surprised medical personnel who had prepared for the worst when the trapped men were found Saturday night.

As crews drilled a rescue shaft 240 feet into Quecreek Mine to save the men, all types of emergency equipment and personnel were dispatched to the scene about six miles north of Somerset; ambulances, decompression chambers, medical experts. There were even 18 helicopters on hand.

In the end, however, it didn't appear that nearly so much medical attention would be required for the miners, who for days had been described as a tough breed that knows how to survive.

Gov. Mark Schweiker, who announced that workers had communicated with the miners via a telephone dropped down a shaft, smiled as he said that all of the men appeared to be "in pretty good shape."

"They're apparently good to go and ready to come up," the governor said.

"It's amazing. It's a miracle," said David Hess, the secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, who was one of the first officials on the scene after the mine flooded Wednesday night when the men inadvertently broke through an adjacent, abandoned mine.

Through the days, medical personnel prepared to treat the men for symptoms of hypothermia, concerned they may have been huddling in a dark, cramped, partially flooded chamber in the mine for three days.

Officials were guardedly optimistic about their condition early Sunday, before they were brought up from the mine.

All nine members were pulled up by 3 a.m. Sunday.

Dave Lauriski, assistant secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said one man, Randy Fogle, seemed to be experiencing some heart stress, and medical personnel were talking to him.

Fogle, 43, was flown to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown. Hospital officials said two other miners had been brought to the hospital and a fourth was expected. Two other miners were being evaluated at Somerset hospital, said spokesman Greg Chiappelli.

Water, blankets and food were being sent down to the men while they waited to be pulled up, Lauriski said.

Capt. Dale Mole, director for undersea medicine for the Navy, said when he first heard reports of the mine accident he was not optimistic about the miners' chances of survival. But he said that the more he talked to mine experts and rescuers at the site, the more hopeful he became.

He said the chances were good the trapped men had found ledges to perch on to remain dry.

Measurements were expected to be taken of the air pressure in the mine and compared with that at the surface. If there was too big a difference, medical personnel were expected to put the miners in decompression chambers, on loan from the Navy.

Those chambers were to keep the men from suffering the bends – bubbles in the bloodstream caused by rapid changes in pressure – once they were brought to the surface.

But even if the decompression chambers were needed, that seemed like little more than an inconvenience after three days underground.

"This is a miracle," said John Weir, the owner of Black Wolf Coal Co., which operates the mine. "We're going to get them out. We're going to get them with their families."