Sixth Hole Fails to Find Signs of Trapped Miners, Seventh Hole Planned

There's now a plan for a seventh hole at the Crandall Canyon mine and the use of a special camera that could provide the best view yet of the collapsed area.

Officials made those disclosures Sunday, nearly three weeks since six miners became trapped 1,500 feet below ground.

The camera is similar to one used to search the wreckage of the World Trade Center after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Word of a seventh hole came as news that a sixth hole punched through a mine shaft had failed to find any signs that the six miners were alive.

Federal safety officials told families of the missing miners they would conduct testing — air samples, signaling in hopes of a response from the men, and dropping a video camera into the mine shaft — but have been less than hopeful about the results.

"The only thing they told us is there is no void where the sixth hole is; there is no space," attorney Colin King said after a meeting between the missing miners' families he represents and mine officials.

Crandall Canyon Mine co-owner Bob Murray had said the sixth hole would be the last effort to find a sign of the miners, who may not have survived the massive cave-in Aug. 6.

Families have pleaded with Murray not to halt rescue efforts.

"They left the possibility open that they were possibly considering another hole," King said. "It didn't sound like that was uppermost on their list of to-dos."

Drilling on the sixth narrow inch hole was completed late Saturday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Labor said, reaching a depth of more than 1,700 feet.

Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy Corp., co-owner of the Crandall Canyon mine, said he had no comment on the initial findings from the sixth hole.

Previous holes have yielded only grainy video images and poor air samples. Efforts to signal the miners have been met with silence. Tunneling into the mine was abandoned after another collapse killed three rescue workers and injured six others on Aug. 16.

"It is one of my major goals and the families' major goal to get them out. ... We will vigorously resist any attempt to seal this mine so that we can keep those options open," said King, who has been retained by most of the miners' families.

Family and friends of the missing miners have pressed for the efforts to continue, if only to find the bodies of Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez.

Federal officials and mine company executives have said the mountain's instability makes it too dangerous to drill a hole wide enough for a one-person rescue capsule unless there are signs of life.

"The reality is getting worse and worse," King said. "There is nothing on the drawing board as far as we know that would have any way to get to (the miners) in any short time."

A report from eight national mine safety experts detailing the rationale against a rescue capsule hole or continued horizontal drilling has not been provided to families, King said.

"It puts us in a very difficult position to be able to credibly say, 'You should do this' or 'You should have done that,"' King said.

Seismologists say the mountain is crumbling upon itself, bursting support pillars as it shifts, creating phenomena known as mountain bumps.

The thunderous collapse blew out the walls of the mine shafts, filling them with rubble more than 8 to 10 feet deep in some places. If the men were not crushed by rock, they could have been killed by the immense air pressure generated by the collapse, mining executives and federal regulators have said.