PHILIPPI, W.Va. – As families and friends of 12 men killed in a coal mine explosion prepared to say goodbye with bowed heads and quiet prayers, mine employees met with company officials for the first time since the blast.
The first visitations for the victims of the Sago Mine tragedy were scheduled Saturday, and six funerals were planned for Sunday.
Gov. Joe Manchin's office said he plans on attending the viewings.
"Having been with the families throughout these last difficult days this week, he felt a very close connection with them," spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said Saturday. "He wanted to make sure he followed through on his commitment to them to be there for them."
Before the viewings, the 145 employees of the Sago Mine were meeting with International Coal Group chief executive Ben Hatfield for the first time since Monday's explosion to discuss when the mine could reopen and company efforts to find them temporary jobs.
"We're going to do our very level best to take care of our people," Hatfield said.
An eight-person team has been appointed by the MSHA to investigate Monday's blast. It killed one miner immediately and 11 more who were found nearly 42 hours later huddled together behind a plastic curtain erected to keep out deadly carbon monoxide.
Officials worked Friday to begin drilling three ventilation holes into the central West Virginia mine to purge it of poisonous gases, allowing investigators safely back inside to determine what sparked the blast and how the miners spent their final hours.
"There are so many things we don't know about what went wrong," Hatfield said. "We don't want to put any more people at risk until we know answers."
Among the theories being investigated is the possibility that lightning ignited naturally occurring methane gas or coal dust. Some of the most serious citations against the mine in 2005 were for the mine's plan to control methane and breathable dust.
The mine had been idle during the New Year's weekend. Mine-safety experts said gas can build up in a mine after just one day of idled operations, especially in the winter, when the barometric pressure drops.
Also, the metal casings of abandoned natural gas wells above a mine can conduct an electrical current into the ground.
"If this is in fact a strike of lightning onto a well, gas or oil, that sits above an abandoned section of the workings, that well should have had a substantial barrier to avoid this," said J. Davitt McAteer, who oversaw MSHA during the Clinton administration.
MSHA's Friend said when the mine is safe to enter, the team will examine every aspect of it, including its physical structures and all equipment. The team will also interview dozens of people, including the approximately 13 miners who escaped.
Autopsies have been completed, and the bodies of the miners were returned to the families. State law prohibits the public release of autopsy results. Asked whether 11 of the trapped miners died from carbon monoxide poisoning, state Department of Health and Human Resources spokesman John Law said only, "I don't think it will be a great surprise."