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Then & Now: Quecreek miners

Randy Fogle was the first of the nine miners to be rescued in 2002.




(CNN) -- The world watched breathlessly in July 2002 as rescuers in Somerset, Pennsylvania, drilled into 240 feet of rock in an attempt to save the lives of nine men trapped underground in a flooded mine shaft.

For hours, no one above ground even knew if the miners they were working to find were dead or alive.

Today, some of the Quecreek survivors still work in the coal mining industry, but only Randy Fogle continues to work underground.

Dennis Hall decided never to mine again.

He came from a family of miners and had worked underground since he was a teenager, but after the accident and subsequent counseling he left mining behind at his family's request.

"You know how they say stop and smell the roses? Well, there is a lot of truth to that," Hall said.

On the night of July 24 the nine-man crew accidentally breached the abandoned Saxman Mine, which was filled with water. The mistake sent millions of gallons of water rushing into Quecreek Mine.

All nine men sought refuge in an air pocket up to 4 feet deep and 12 to 18 feet wide. The water that gushed around them and filled the chamber was only 55 degrees F.

"Time was running out ... as that water was filling the mine up, we were losing our oxygen," Hall recalls.

The miners radioed a second crew whose nine members trudged through neck-deep water 1 miles to the mine entrance and managed to escape. But soon the crew lost touch with the trapped miners.

Overnight, workers drilled a 6-inch air hole into the mine in hopes of providing air for survivors. The next morning, rescue crews were elated to hear the trapped miners tapping on the drill.

But after 18 hours underground in cold water, the trapped workers were losing hope that they would make it out alive. All nine men wrote farewell notes and put them in a lunch bucket.

"I made peace with the lord, and I figured if I said this is the way he wants me to die, I have to accept it," Hall, a father of two, told CNN. "I didn't like it, but I accepted it."

Above ground, rescue efforts were hampered when the bit on the giant drill used to dig a rescue shaft broke off and fell into the hole. Work on a second rescue shaft began, but by nightfall on July 26 the broken bit was recovered and work began again on the first hole.

On the evening of July 27, rescue workers broke through the chamber where all nine miners were trapped and huddled together. A phone was lowered into the chamber and Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker announced to the world that all nine miners were alive.

The miners "decided early on they were either going to live or die as a group," said Dr. Russell Dumire, a trauma surgeon at Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, where six of the miners were hospitalized.

"When one would get cold, the other eight would huddle around the person and warm that person, and when another person got cold, the favor was returned," said Dumire, according to The Associated Press.

After 77 hours trapped below 240 feet of rock and surrounded by water, the men were pulled up one at a time in a yellow, cage-like cylinder. All of the miners had survived, and over a 90-minute period they were all rescued on live television.

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