Remarks by Dave D. Lauriski
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health
2002 National and International Mine Rescue Contest
August 22, 2002
Good evening, everyone.
I'd like to extend a warm welcome to all of you here tonight.
To the 28 national mine rescue teams representing mining companies in 12 states, welcome.
To our U.S. team, and to the four visiting delegations who have traveled great distances to participate in this competition, to share ideas about mine rescue and to hopefully return to their homelands with information that will help them in their own mine rescue efforts, I say:
Bienvenue, Huan Ying, Bienvenido and Witac'.
To each and every team here, for those who participated in first aid and bench, thank you for all your hard work this week, and for your continued dedication to mine rescue and to mine safety as a whole.
Welcome, also, to the co-workers, friends and relatives of the participating teams.
Your support means a great deal to these men and women.
It means a great deal to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, because we have long understood the importance and value of mine rescue.
And most importantly, it means a great deal to the miners who work in the mines.
Mine rescuers are truly a special breed of people. I've learned that much over the three decades I worked in industry, and it was reaffirmed for me over the past three days.
There are very few professions that share the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood that exist in mining.
Those bonds, of course, deepen when you spend hours together repeatedly training, reinforcing techniques and competing as a team.
Like any professional sports team, you learn to anticipate certain moves and actions of your teammates. You play off of each others strengths and skills.
There's group chemistry and a deep sense of trust in one another that develops.
These things are crucial to creating and maintaining a top-notch team whose primary focus is saving miners' lives.
I witnessed that special camaraderie and support time and again this week.
I witnessed it throughout the convention center. Each time a team suited up and prepared to hit the field, the applause from other teams, from MSHA, and from spectators in the bleachers was truly heartwarming.
And when each of the five international teams headed down to their field, proudly displaying their country's flag at the front of the line, that was another very special moment.
A lot of these special moments have been captured on a video that played earlier this evening. I hope you had a chance to watch some of it.
I think our crew from our Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, West Virginia did a terrific job of capturing the flavor and the high points of the week, and I'd like to thank them for all their hard work and creativity.
In just a few minutes, we'll be rewarding several teams and individuals for their hard work, along with honoring four very special gentleman for their years of dedication to mine rescue.
Whether you take home a trophy or plaque this evening, I hope you know that you are all winners.
And I know that you will celebrate with those who end up on stage tonight.
We need to rely on and support each other, because we never know when we will need the skills and expertise of our fellow mine rescuers.
Just like in Somerset, Pennsylvania one month ago.
That may have been one of the greatest mine rescue efforts in the history of U.S. mining, certainly one of the most satisfying moments in my lifetime.
I speak, of course, of the now-famous Quecreek mine rescue, the 77-hour ordeal that captured the attention of not only our nation, but of the entire world.
No doubt most of you here in this room were glued to your TV sets during some point of the 3-day (and night) odyssey.
I don't think I will ever get tired of talking about it. I am just so incredibly proud of the efforts put forth by so many people B the MSHA team, of course, the state of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety, the Enlow Fork mine rescue team from Pennsylvania, the Navy Seals, local law enforcement, drilling companies, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross B the list goes on and on.
From start to finish, dozens of mine safety professionals worked collectively to determine how to rescue the nine men quickly and safely.
From the beginning, MSHA's mobile command center served as a central point for federal, state and company personnel to meet, review information, and to make critical decisions.
MSHA's seismic monitoring system was set up to check for signs of life underground.
It proved particularly challenging competing with noise on the surface and the continual drilling through the earth, but at no point did any of these efforts appear fruitless or to be without merit.
The first bore hole we drilled, a mere 6-inch hole, proved to be life-saving.
Originally, it was intended for communication purposes. Ultimately, one of our engineers came up with the idea to pump compressed air into that hole.
It served three purposes:
- it provided oxygen to the miners;
- it provided some warmth in the cold, damp environment where hypothermia was a constant concern; and
- the compressed air exerted pressure against the rising water.
Essentially, the miners were in a protected space, a bubble, so to speak.
Meanwhile, a 30-inch drill began slowly and methodically boring through the rock in an effort to reach the trapped miners 240 feet below.
At the same time, pumps had been installed to remove the millions of gallons of water that had flooded the mine.
These pumps, along with drilling, hoisting and other equipment, arrived on the scene from companies in neighboring states. The outpouring of help and offers by companies and individuals around the country was absolutely inspiring.
Another critical decision was determining how much water had to be removed before it would be safe to penetrate the mine workings with the drill.
The big question B what would happen if the rescue Abubble@ protecting the miners was pierced?
If air pressure was all that was holding back the water, as soon as the rescue shaft went through, would air rush out and cause water to fill the protected space?
Drowning was a very real possibility.
Another group of our MSHA engineers, led by Dr. Kelvin Wu, calculated how much water needed to be pumped out before we could be certain it was safe to pierce through the rock, and how much pressure had to be exerted against the water in order to hold it back from the miners.
Throughout the process, there were a few setbacks. At one point, the 30-inch drill bit broke, and we were forced to go to a smaller one. Meanwhile, a second bore hole was being drilled as a backup at an adjacent site.
Eventually the moment we had all waited for, and prayed for, arrived. At 10:16 p.m., Saturday evening, more than three days after this drama began, the drill broke through.
At 10:53, we sent a microphone down the 6-inch hole to establish communications with the miners.
And at 11:10 p.m., a time that will be forever embedded in my memory, we got word that all nine miners were alive and okay.
What a moment that was.
I can honestly say that, while our optimism about the process may have wavered somewhat during those 77 hours, not once B never once B did we give up hope that these men were alive.
I believe it is that hope that sustained us throughout those three days, that allowed us to keep pushing forward, to never lose focus, to do whatever it took to return those men to their families.
And as our now-famous capsule was lowered and raised 18 times over the next 2 and a half hours, the mood escalated from relief to jubilation to downright euphoria.
Many of you have gotten up close and personal with the capsule while it was on display at the convention center this week.
I was touched by all the attention it has received, all the photographs that people have had taken standing next to it.
Seeing it in person, and not just as an image on television, seems to have really brought this entire event home for people.
What a debut for a piece of steel that spent the past 30 years awaiting an opportunity to be put into service.
It's only the second of its kind in the United States. The first was used at Sunshine Mine in Kellogg , Idaho, 30 years ago last May.
But not before 91 miners died in a fire that started 3,700 feet below ground.
Two men retreated further into the mine, and were discovered by rescuers an incredible 7 days later. They survived on sandwiches and water condensing on rocks.
They made several attempts to get out of the mine, but it was a rescue capsule that ultimately pulled them to safety, evacuating them to a higher level so that they could be taken to the surface by a hoist.
One of those rescuers was Bill Crouch, a second-generation miner who was prominently displayed in a photo next to the capsule at the convention center.
The tradition of mine rescue has continued in Bill's family as his two sons Tim and Bob Crouch are active members of the rescue community. In fact, they both were involved in the competition this week.
There's been much talk about where MSHA's rescue capsule will make its home. Certainly, a number of organizations would like the honor of displaying it - it's a piece of history that tells an amazing story.
No decision has yet been made about where it will go; certainly not until we have constructed a worthy replacement.
Whether it ends up in a national institution or at a small museum in southwestern Pennsylvania, this rescue capsule will always represent a defining moment in the history of mining and mine rescue.
And each time you participate in an event such as the one held this week, you are making defining moments such as the one at Quecreek a reality.
Because it was the training, the teamwork and the will of the human spirit that so vividly exists in each of you, that made this rescue so magnificent.
Thank you, again, for all that you do for mining and for mine rescue.
And remember, tonight we are all winners.