SOMERSET, Pa. – Nine miners who spent more than three days in a flooded coal mine 240 feet underground joined hundreds of people at a church service Sunday night to give thanks for their rescue a week ago.
Family, friends and neighbors filled the Christ Casebeer Lutheran Church, just 100 yards away from where the men were trapped for 77 hours in a cramped shaft at Quecreek Mine in western Pennsylvania.
Early in the service, a man in a white T-shirt emblazoned with the word "America" lit 10 candles placed behind 10 miners' helmets on a table near the altar.
The candles were lit in honor of the nine miners who escaped immediately, thanks to a warning radioed to them by the trapped men. The tenth candle was lit for the person who guided those men to safety.
"These candles represent the vigilance of the nine who escaped and how they stayed vigilant while the other nine were still underground," said the Rev. Joseph Beer of the Mount Laurel United Church of Christ.
Rescuers bored through the ceiling where the remaining miners were trapped at 10:16 p.m. Saturday, July 27 -- a feat hailed by some as a miracle.
Jerry Davis, an assistant district manager for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, was one of the first on the scene and worked at the command center during the rescue.
"I spent a number of hours of my life here, three or four days, I wanted to share some of the blessings they received," Davis, 60, said following the service.
William Ronan, 53, a coal miner, and his wife Carol, 54, said they knew two of the trapped men. Carol Ronan said they were at the Sunday night service "thanking the Lord for bringing our family and a friends out."
The miners did not speak during the service, attended by religious leaders from different denominations, but they posed for photos outside with those in attendance.
Randy Housel, one of the drillers assisting in the rescue, said he sent down the first can of chewing tobacco to the trapped miners and met them after the service.
"I told them, 'I'm so glad to see you above ground,"' said Housel, 45.
The miners were trapped when an abandoned, water-filled mine flooded the shaft where they worked. During their ordeal, they made a pact to "live or die as a group," tying themselves together so all of their bodies would be found if they drowned.
They spent hours in the water, at one point attempting to break through another wall to try to bring the water level down. Instead, it rose, forcing them to swim in their heavy miners' clothes, one of the miners said.
"It's divine intervention. We needed something like this to happen," said Lei Hennessy, 41, of Seattle, who was at the service.
The government is to investigate the accident while reviewing hazards posed by abandoned mines nationwide.
This week the miners sold book and TV rights to The Walt Disney Co. for $150,000 each, their lawyer said Saturday.
The nine rescued miners were: Randy Fogle, 43, of Garrett; Thomas Foy, 51, of Berlin; Harry B. Mayhugh, 31, Foy's son-in-law; John Unger, 52, of Hollsopple; John Phillippi, of Gray; Ronald Hileman, of Gray; Dennis Hall, 49, of Johnstown; Robert Pugh, 50, of Boswell; and Mark Popernack, 41, of Somerset.