SIMPSON, W.Va. – The youngest of the miners, the sole survivor of a mining disaster that killed 12, was a quiet religious man who risked the dangers of working underground — even though he was a licensed electrician — to earn more money for his family.
Randal McCloy Jr., 26, "was looking to get out" after working in the mine for three years, according to his wife, Anna, who spoke as she awaited word on the miners. "It was too dangerous."
"I know he was fighting to stay alive for his family because his family was his number one priority," said Rick McGee, McCloy's 36-year-old brother-in-law and a fellow Sago Mine miner who lives next door to McCloy in this small West Virginia town, about 37 miles southeast of Morgantown, where most people either work in the mines or know someone who does.
Dubbed the "miracle miner" by some, McCloy remained in critical condition Wednesday but was able to squeeze his wife's hand from his bed at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital, Dr. Lawrence Roberts said at a briefing.
"Having been laying still for so many hours and being poorly hydrated for that period of time has resulted in some kidney dysfunction," Roberts said. "We assume that will be a temporary phenomenon while the kidneys recover."
His blood pressure, his heart rate and other laboratory tests "seem relatively normal," she added.
McCloy, a lover of fast-cars, sports and hunting and fishing, is "a really smart person" who trained with McGee in the mines, he said.
"When most people are drinking pop, he's drinking milk and juice. He's in good shape. That had to have helped him," McGee said from his trailer up the hill from the McCloy's trailer, located in a wooded area.
Lila Muncy, McCloy's younger sister, has said that before her brother went into the mine each day he told his wife, "God is with you." The couple has a 4-year-old son named Randal III and a 1-year-old daughter, Isabel.
McCloy was undergoing dialysis treatment, and doctors were trying to inflate a collapsed lung. He was sedated to prevent him from removing a tube inserted in his throat to ease his breathing.
Because of the tube, McCloy cannot talk, but he is responding to his wife with facial expressions and by squeezing her hand, Roberts said.
McGee said he, too, held McCloy's hand when he visited him shortly after he was transported to the Morgantown hospital. It looked like he walked in and laid down on the bed to sleep, he said.
"There's not a mark on his face. There's not a mark on his arms. There's only a mark on his side," McGee said describing a slight bruise on McCloy's back.
"It's a miracle he's out of there," McGee said.
His lung is expanding, but Roberts was unsure when the breathing tube may be removed, although he expected to reduce the sedation Thursday.
Anna McCloy, looking pale and exhausted, attended the news conference at the hospital but did not answer questions. "Just ask everybody to keep on praying," she said.
McCloy was rescued from the mine near Tallsmansville early Wednesday where he had been trapped with a dozen other miners for more than 42 hours.
He was one of the youngest of the 10 miners. Most of the others were in their 50s. Roberts said McCloy's youth and good health were a factor in his survival but stressed he did not know the health status of the other miners.
A CT scan did not show that McCloy had any brain injuries, but doctors do not know yet how a lack of oxygen may have affected his brain function, Roberts said.
The miners had been trapped in the mine since an explosion early Monday. Authorities had told families late Tuesday that 12 of the 13 had survived, but later reversed themselves, prompting shock and outrage among the assembled relatives.
McGee said miners know every day when they go to work that it may be their last, and everyone knew McCloy wanted out.
The accident may speed up his wish.
"His wife said he's not going back," said McCloy's father-in-law, Charles Green. "And she rules."