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Former mining official: We need to reach miners faster

  • Story Highlights
  • Davitt McAteer headed the Mine Safety and Health Administration
  • McAteer: We shouldn't be just now reaching the area where men are trapped
  • He says the Sago mine disaster was a wake-up call
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(CNN) -- The federal official who oversaw mine safety in the 1990s expressed dismay Saturday that it took five days before the first drilled hole reached the area of Utah's Crandall Canyon mine where six men are believed to be trapped.

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Davitt McAteer holds up a tracking device for miners during a congressional hearing on mine safety in 2006.

"We need to do a very thorough investigation, because if we're going to continue to mine in this country and around the world, we need to, one, know how this occurred, two, know how to prevent it, and third thing -- and I think this is fair to say -- is that we need to be able to get to miners quicker," Davitt McAteer told CNN.

"The fact is that we should not be, on the Saturday following a Sunday, a week -- basically a week later -- we should not be just getting in at this point."

He pointed out that rescue workers were running out of options.

"There could be an effort to drill a second hole, but that would just be guessing. What they've done is they've used their last coordinates that they had of the miners before the accident happened," McAteer said. Video Watch McAteer make his case for a better mine disaster response system » Photo See rescue efforts at the mine »

McAteer, who left his post at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) when President Bush was elected, said the Sago mine disaster pointed to the need for certain measures, including the need to communicate quickly with miners.

The January 2006 methane explosion at the mine in Upshur County, West Virginia, was one of the most high-profile mining accidents in recent history. Only one of the 13 trapped miners survived.

One miner died in the immediate impact of the blast, and 11 died after being trapped underground for more than 40 hours.

The United Mine Workers of America concluded that friction inside a mine shaft ignited the explosion, and faulted MSHA for failing to mandate the development of communications systems and safety chambers that would have allowed rescue workers to reach the trapped miners sooner.

The union report released in March contradicts the findings of two earlier investigations conducted by the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training and by mine owner International Coal Group. Both concluded that the deadly explosion was most likely set off by a lightning strike above the mine.

After 70 miners died in 2006, MSHA issued new rules requiring mine operators to adopt measures to protect miners in the event of an emergency.

The rules require operators to increase the availability of emergency breathing devices, provide improved training on the devices, improve emergency evacuation and drill training, install lifelines for emergency evacuation and immediately notify MSHA in the event of an accident.

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The rules provide regulatory language to carry out instructions in the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush.

Under the new rules, mine operators must establish a single phone number for use in reporting mine accidents within 15 minutes after it is known that an accident occurred. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Sago MineMine Safety and Health Administration

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