He was inside the Sago Baptist Church just before midnight Tuesday when false news spread that all 12 missing miners were found alive. He witnessed the celebration and the tears of joy, then left to try and confirm the news, only to return three hours later, when the hundreds of family members and friends learned the devastating truth.
His own uncle died in the state's worst mining accident back in 1968, so he knows firsthand what it's like to wait, and worry, and deal with accidental death.
"Devastating" was one of the words he used to sum it up.
But this was even worse, the cruelest of circumstances. What could possibly be more devastating than spending 41 hours praying for the best, knowing full well it would take a miracle to save your loved one ... then hearing that person is alive, believing it to be fact, celebrating and rejoicing with hundreds of close friends, only for it to come crashing down three hours later with news that you were misled, your father/son/brother/uncle/cousin/best friend is dead after all.
The governor was somber, and very, very sorry.
"We're clinging to one miracle when we were hoping for 13," Manchin said.
That miracle is Randal McCloy Jr., the sole survivor. Now we wait to find out if his recovery will be full, and how many others might have been saved if rescuers could have made it in sooner.
Jan. 3, 2006
Back in July of 2002, as the hours passed and days turned to nights, hope slowly faded that the miners would be found alive. Few in the press corp believed it possible, and privately, even local officials and some rescue experts speculated the chances were somewhere between slim and none the men would make it.
And then, 77 hours after they breached a wall and nearly drowned 240 feet below ground, the nine Quecreek miners were pulled to safety, one by one, in a tubular metal cage.
It was a compelling and amazing story of survival at a time when this country was desperate for good news. Debris was still being hauled away from the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon wasn't yet repaired from the Sept. 11 attacks, and mourners were visiting a makeshift memorial just a few miles from the mine in Somerset County, where the fourth hijacked plane went down. War was on in Afghanistan, and trouble loomed in Iraq.
The Quecreek rescue gave us hope. It reminded us good things do happen even in the worst of circumstances. It was an example of people pulling together, refusing to quit, marshalling resources and working as many hours as necessary, with no guarantee of success.
As I board a plane to Pittsburgh, I am reminded that history may or may not repeat itself, but there is hope. Quecreek will forever remind us of that…
• E-mail Rick
I'm originally from an immigrant miner family in Pennsylvania so this story really hits home. I grew up around the mines with most of the men in my family being coalminers. Its a dark, scary, dangerous place. I know what its like to hear there was a problem at the mine and wondering if everyone was coming home.
Dear Mr. Leventhal,
My heart and prayers are with the miners families as well as the sole survivor and his loved ones.
In this modern age, why aren't there better safety measures put into place? Why don't they have some vent holes dug and capped off just in case there is an emergency situation and they are needed?
The mine San Juan Underground Coal Co. I work at now has the best in the nation for a monitoring system. We monitor every where in the mine that goes to a huge screen out side that a trained person watches 24 hours a day. Most mines can not afford this type of system and it is sad because it is so helpful in keeping us safe. I've seen at lot of good chances through my years of mining, which started in the state of Wyoming.
Please keep all of them in your prayers and keep America informed.
Aztec, New Mexico