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Rescued miner: 'There was no way out'

Rescued miners appear at a news conference Monday. From left, are John Unger, Dennis Hall, Randy Fogle, Harry B. Mayhugh and Thomas Foy.
Rescued miners appear at a news conference Monday. From left, are John Unger, Dennis Hall, Randy Fogle, Harry B. Mayhugh and Thomas Foy.  

JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Some of the nine coal miners rescued from a flooded shaft reflected on their brush with death Monday following the weekend's dramatic end to their ordeal.

"There were times I didn't think we were coming [back]," John Unger, one of the miners who survived 77 hours trapped underground, told CNN.

"The first time the water broke through -- I've never seen anything with so much rage in my entire life," he said. "There was no way out."

He credited "the best people in the mining business" for planning and executing the miners' successful rescue.

Six miners -- Dennis J. Hall, Harry B. Mayhugh, Robert Pugh, John Phillippi, Ron Hileman and Mark Popernack -- were released from area hospitals Sunday afternoon.

Unger and another miner, Randy Fogle, were released Monday from Memorial Medical Center here. Only Thomas Foy was still hospitalized Monday night.

Foy was among five miners who expressed gratitude for their rescue during a news conference at the hospital Monday afternoon.

"I came to thank everybody that was out there and helped us and prayed for us," Foy said. "Not for no story, no fame, no glory."

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From a wheelchair, the mechanic-electrician for Black Wolf Coal Co. added, "That's the only reason we're here. We can't thank you enough."

Their motivation during the long hours in the dark was simple, Foy said: "We just wanted to survive, and that was it."

Their ordeal began late Wednesday night, when more than 50 million gallons of water started pouring into their mine from a hole in a wall that led to another, long-abandoned, flooded mine.

Badly drawn maps had led them to believe the other mine was hundreds of yards away.

Three thousand feet from safety, the men tried but failed to make their way out before the water cut off their retreat and sent them running back into the mine.

"The water had beat us," said Fogle, who was also in a wheelchair. "It filled up to the roof at that point, and we just couldn't get out."

So they scrambled back to the highest point inside the mine. "We thought a couple of us were having a heart attack," Foy said. "We all had pain and couldn't breathe."

The men piled pieces of coal on the "semi-dry" high area and covered them with canvas to keep themselves above water, Foy said.

And they waited. Hope was buoyed the next morning when a six-inch shaft was drilled through to them, spewing forth compressed warm air.

At first, they communicated to the world above by tapping on the drill, but when the water level rose, they were forced to move away from the hole.

Some of the men began suffering from hypothermia as the hours wore on.

"Then we just covered each other up, hugged each other, whatever it took just to keep each other warm," he said. "Some guys would shake more than the others."

Foy recalled finding a bucket containing a corned-beef sandwich and some soda, which helped ease their hunger.

"We split that between nine guys, just huddled together side by side," he said. "I figured with that and the water we had we're good for another couple of days."

Asked how the men passed the time, Foy said they talked about "anything and everything."

"We can't tell you everything we talked about, but we talked about everything. We done a lot of praying -- that was No. 1. We done a lot of praying," he said.

Fogle expressed doubts about whether he will ever return to the mine.

"I don't know if too many of us will go back," he said. "It put our families through a lot. It was hard on us and I think it was even harder on them."

Foy agreed: "I've got seven grandkids. I want to see those guys grow up. That's it."

Hall said the experience won't change his plans. "I've been mining through almost 30 years. This is something that happened, that will probably never happen again in a million years."

Asked if they were paid overtime for their efforts, Mayhugh said: "They better be paying overtime."

Joining them at the event was Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker, who said earlier that an investigation into the accident would address the conduct of the mine's operator.

"The company owes answers to the mining families, the company owes answers to me, the company owes answers to Pennsylvania," Schweiker said of the Black Wolf Coal Co. that operates the Quecreek mine.

"The outcome we're after is Pennsylvania mining families know that when their loved ones go into this tough, dangerous business that at least their maps are dependable," Schweiker said in an interview on CNN. (Transcript)

Foy said he hopes the investigation determines who is at fault. "Somebody screwed up down the line. We don't know who, but we're going to find out," he said.

The soggy, cold and exhausted miners, their faces blackened with coal dust, were pulled from the 240-foot-deep shaft early Sunday after being trapped underground for more than three days. They later reunited with their families at the hospitals.

"There were tears of joy flowing everywhere at the time, both from the miners and the family," Dumire said.

Amid celebrations over the successful rescue effort, a team of investigators was being assembled to interview people, examine records and maps and eventually crawl into the Quecreek mine once all the water has been pumped out. (Related story)

Workers also have to clean up in and around the mine site, which is about 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

"There's still water in that mine and there's still work to be done," said Betsy Mallison of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. "And the reason for that is there's still equipment down there."




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