West Virginia mine rescue spurs concerns over copper thefts after group trapped underground for days

The days-long rescue operation for three people in a coal mine in West Virginia has highlighted concerns about copper thefts in other abandoned shafts after a father of one of the women found alive said she entered in search of copper.

Randall Williams told CBS News on Thursday that people in the region do "whatever they can do to make money if they ain't got a job."

Kayla Williams embraces a loved one after being rescued from the mine on Wednesday.

Kayla Williams embraces a loved one after being rescued from the mine on Wednesday.

It's not uncommon for people in the area to enter abandoned mines in search of copper to sell. In the past two weeks, four men have been arrested in copper theft investigations for breaking and entering two other mines, WCHS-TV reported.

The problem has grown so severe recently that the West Virginia Coal Association has pushed state lawmakers for stricter punishments for people who break into abandoned mines. The group is calling for those caught to face heavier fines or even jail time.

“It just consumes a lot of time and resources of safety and rescue professionals whose time is needed elsewhere,” Senior Vice President Chris Hamilton told WCHS.

The state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training said in a statement on Wednesday that 25-year-old Kayla Williams, 31-year-old Erica Treadway and 21-year-old Cody Beverly were located inside Elk Run Coal's Rock House Powellton mine near Clear Creek, approximately 50 miles southeast of Charleston.

Video later showed them emerging from an ambulance, embracing family members, and walking into a hospital escorted by law officers and rescue workers.

THREE MISSING IN ABANDONED WEST VIRGINIA COAL MINE ARE FOUND ALIVE, OFFICIALS SAY

The group had been missing since early Saturday along with a fourth person, 43-year-old Eddie Williams. Investigators previously said an abandoned ATV the four were believed to have been riding was found near the mine entrance.

Family and friends await word of the search teams' efforts in finding Cody Beverly, Kayla Williams and Erica Treadway at the Salamy Memorial Center in Whitesville, W.Va., on Wednesday, December 12, 2018.

Family and friends await word of the search teams' efforts in finding Cody Beverly, Kayla Williams and Erica Treadway at the Salamy Memorial Center in Whitesville, W.Va., on Wednesday, December 12, 2018. (Craig Hudson/The Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

Eddie Williams walked out of the mine Monday evening. It was not immediately clear whether he was related to Kayla Williams.

Police have not yet said if the group will face charges for the incident.

Crews had used fans to move fresh air into the mine while pumps cleared some standing water inside but the water levels remained too high and hampered search efforts.

Coal has not been mined at the underground location for two years, according to state officials.

Fox News' Samuel Chamberlain and The Associated Press contributed to this report.