HUNTINGTON, Utah – With their efforts to drill deep inside a Utah mountain yielding no signs of six trapped miners, exhausted rescuers pondered alternatives including drilling another hole big enough to accommodate a human-size capsule to get inside tunnel.
But officials said that could add nearly three weeks to the already laborious effort to find the men trapped since Monday's thunderous collapse. Rescuers insist their best chance for reaching the men remains with the crews chewing up a path through the Crandall Canyon mine's rubble-filled, 2,000-foot passageway.
By early Sunday, workers making halting progress were only about a third of the way to the trapped miners. Workers were also lowering a sophisticated video camera down a hole drilled into a chamber that might contain the men.
In what has become a daily ritual near midmorning, families of the miners began gathering at a school in Huntington to be briefed in private. Among officials observed arriving at the campus Sunday was Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
"Certainly, the No. 1 priority at this time is on advancing the cleanup" inside the mine, Stickler told reporters Saturday. "We believe that is our best opportunity to reach the miners as soon as possible. We're looking at other alternatives."
Those include boring a hole big enough to allow a capsule that could take a rescuer down or a trapped miner up. But another, larger drill would have to be moved atop the mountain, an operation that could take up to 20 days.
Still, Stickler said, "We have not ruled that out."
Officials have also discussed drilling additional holes into the mountain to search for the miners. "We have a team that is currently looking at that to see ... what could be gained," Stickler said.
Rescuers were mulling all options following a day of bad news on the mountain.
They had trouble the first time they lowered the video camera into the mine when water seeping into the drilled hole obscured the lens. Workers decided to line the hole with steel casing to protect the camera before trying again.
But the first images did show a 5 1/2-foot "survivable space" in the chamber, Stickler said Saturday. Attempts to signal the miners, however, were met by silence.
The camera showed the chamber's ceiling was intact, but also rubble that may have burst from the walls under extreme pressure, leaving over 2 feet of debris mixed with water, Stickler said.
"We do have a 5 1/2-foot void. We have not lost the space where the miners could be located," he said.
The nearly 9-inch-wide hole reached the void early Saturday. Rescuers quickly shut down the drill rig and their compressors -- anything that could drown out signs of life from down below -- and repeatedly struck the drill steel in an attempt to signal the miners. Trapped miners, if they can hear the signal, are trained to respond with tools or rocks.
These signals, however, were met with silence.
The brother of missing miner Don Erickson expressed frustration at the news.
"We don't know anything," Terry Erickson said. "It's just the same stuff that's on TV. I'm getting tired of hearing it."
"No good news," said Maria Buenrostro, sister of miner Manuel Sanchez, 41, as she drove away from a school where families were briefed.
The mining crew also included Carlos Payan, in his 20s; Kerry Allred, 57; Brandon Phillips, 24; and Don Erickson, 50.