TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. – Footprints inside the Sago Mine indicate the trapped miners tried to use a mechanized mine car to force their way out after the explosion, family members of the sole survivor said.
Rick McGee, the brother-in-law of survivor Randal McCloy Jr., said Tuesday that International Coal Group Inc. chief executive Ben Hatfield had shared the information with the family.
"They found footprints," McGee said. The men "tried to go back out of the mine. This ain't hearsay. This came from Hatfield's mouth."
Lara Ramsburg, a spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin, said Tuesday that it's also the state's understanding the men tried to escape. When they couldn't, "they then, being trained, turned around and went back to the face, where they barricaded themselves," she said. In a mine, the "face" is where miners are removing coal.
By the time rescue workers reached the 12 trapped miners more than 41 hours after the Jan. 2 explosion, all but one had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. It was West Virginia's worst coal-mining accident in more than 35 years.
McCloy, 26, remains in critical condition, in a partial coma and still fighting a fever. His doctors at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown said that tests showed a lot of activity on both sides of McCloy's brain.
"It is probably too early for us to tell what that means, but it is very important to us that he has a lot of brain activity," said Dr. Julian Bailes.
Hatfield did not return repeated requests for comment about whether the miners made an escape effort. In a statement issued to The Associated Press, he said it was probable the miners believed a fire or debris from the explosion was blocking their path.
In the days since the accident, Hatfield has said it's possible the men could have walked to a section of the mine with clean air, and then made their way out.
In an interview with USAToday, Hatfield said if the trapped miners had wireless communication devices, it would have been possible to tell them of a safe way out. The only method of communication at Sago, a wired phone, was destroyed in the blast.
Hatfield told USAToday his company would consider issuing radios to miners. In response to questions from the AP, the company declined to say if it has made changes in safety procedures at its other mines.
Richard Gates, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's lead investigator into the accident, said he hoped the venting at the mine, including the removal of methane gas in a section of the mine where the explosion apparently occurred, would be complete within a week. Until then, no one will be allowed inside.
In West Virginia, two more funerals were held for the Sago miners, 59-year-old Fred Ware was remembered at Sago Baptist Church, the small church near the mine where families gathered to await word on the fate of their loved ones. A funeral for Terry Helms, 50, followed later in Masontown. Other funerals were held Sunday and Monday.