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A long night for trapped miner's brother

By Jeff Goodell
Special to

SOMERSET, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- At 2:30 a.m., Mike Fogle sits alone on the guardrail beside the Pennsylvania highway, staring down into the bright lights where men are drilling into the flooded mine. He sits in silence, a tall, broad-shouldered man in his mid-40s, a camouflage baseball cap atop his head.

He's got a wad of chew in his cheek. Every few minutes he spits. He never takes his eyes off the machinery in the field below -- a tangle of trucks, lights and drilling rigs that have assembled in the last 24 hours just a few miles outside of Somerset, Pennsylvania.

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 Conditions in mine

  • Cold: 56 degrees F
  • Dark: Miners' cap lamps will have expired
  • Wet: Water at an unknown level
  • Cramped: Shaft is 247 feet underground; about 4 feet high and 12-18 feet wide
  • Mike is thinking about his brother, Randy, who is trapped down there, about 250 feet beneath the ground. He and Randy had often talked about what they'd do if there was a collapse or flood in the mine -- how they would have only a few seconds to build a barricade in a 40-inch-high tunnel and find safe harbor from the lethal gases and black water that instantly fill a mine when something goes wrong.

    He and his brother have been coal miners for almost 20 years, and their pa was a coal miner before them. "My brother is as strong as they come," Mike says. "Those other guys down there -- they're the best men I've ever worked with."

    Mike and Randy are about as close as brothers can be. They work in the mine together (except for a fluke of scheduling, Mike was supposed to be down there with him on Wednesday night, when the mine flooded). They live next door to each other over in Garrett, a small mountain town about 10 miles away.

    When Mike talks about Randy, his eyes shine with affection and respect. He remembers how, when he and Randy went deer hunting a few years ago, his brother didn't even bother to wear gloves, even though it was five degrees below zero.

    He remembers what a tough football player Randy was in high school. He thinks about how that toughness will come in handy now.

    "They're holding on to a pocket of air right now," Mike says confidently, nodding down to where the drilling rig is grinding down toward the trapped men.

    Last he heard, the drill was about 90 feet down with another 150 feet to go.

    In the beginning, the drilling went easy -- the first 40 feet was all topsoil. Then they began to hit bedrock, and things slowed down.

    Mike thinks maybe they'll get to his brother and the other men by 8 or 9 a.m. Friday.

    A fireman Mike had been talking to earlier walks up, his flashlight dancing.

    "I got permission for you to go down there," he tells Mike, pointing at the rescue operation below.

    "Thanks, I appreciate that," Mike says politely.

    He stands up. "When Randy comes out of that hole," he says confidently, motioning to the field below, "I know the first thing he's gonna want."

    Mike points to the wad of chew bulging in his cheek. A terrible smile flashes across his face, full of hope and love and fear of what the morning will bring.

    Jeff Goodell is the author of "Sunnyvale: The Rise and Fall of a Silicon Valley Family." He is working on a book about coal and energy in the United States.




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