Miners' Families Ask Congress for Help

A letter from a Sago coal miner trapped in the Jan. 2 disaster in West Virginia that killed him and 11 others described smoky conditions underground and his fading hope of being rescued, the man's daughter disclosed at a congressional hearing Monday.

Holding back tears, Sarah Bailey, the daughter of George Hamner Jr., shared with a House panel a note her father left behind but which has not been previously publicized.

"We don't hear any attempts at drilling or rescue," Hamner wrote in the letter, written at 2:40 p.m., about eight hours after the explosion occurred. "The section is full of smoke and fumes, so we can't escape."

Hamner went on to say in the note to his daughter and wife Debbie, "Be strong, and I hope no one else has to show you this note. I'm in no pain, but don't know how long the air will last."

One miner died immediately in the blast. Officials said carbon monoxide poisoning caused the death of 11 other miners. One person, Randal McCloy Jr., survived the accident and is recuperating at a rehabilitation hospital.

Hanmner's wife and daughter were joined at the forum organized by House Democrats by other relatives of miners killed at the Sago accident and families of miners killed at West Virginia's Aracoma Mine, which occurred two weeks after the accident at the Sago Mine. Families of miners killed at the Jim Walters Resources Mine in Alabama in 2001 also testified.

"I urge you to do all you can do to make sure our voices are heard," Debbie Hamner told the panel, which consisted of Democrats from the Education and Workforce Committee who said they convened the forum because Republicans denied their requests to hold a hearing on mine safety.

Other miners at Sago left notes as well. Shuttle car operator Jim Bennett left a note for his family with four entries, the first at 11:40 a.m., about five hours after the blast, and the final entry, with words getting fainter and trailing off the page, at 4:25 p.m., nearly 10 hours after the blast.

The first rescue team did not enter the mine until 5:30 p.m., about 11 hours after the blast. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration refused to allow the teams access until enough deadly gases had vented from the mine. The miners were brought out more than 40 hours after the blast occurred.