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Governor Schweiker Briefs Press on Rescue Efforts

Aired July 27, 2002 - 22:09   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We've got some breaking news out of Pennsylvania. As you know, we've been keep an eye on the situation with the nine miners trapped. Thank you very much, Dave Wells.

Now, the governor of Pennsylvania.

GOV. MARK SCHWEIKER, PENNSYLVANIA: ... briefed by virtue of the telephone hook up, and we've got a mining engineering up there who can receive the frequent reports about status, and the fact that we are on the verge of moving closer to the sealing of the chamber, and so the families are very mindful of the fact that we've made progress, and that -- at this point as it relates our rescue shaft one, we are down at 238 feet, and we got to go 244.

I want to make that clear, because there was another number referenced earlier in the day, and over the last couple of days, and that was a function of -- at that time, focusing on a rescue shaft two. We're looking at -- we're talking about rescue shaft one, that's where all of the focus is right now, and I'll talk about rescue two, in a second.

But, we're at 238, the families are mindful of that, and if can say, you'd be real impressed with their resolve, like many of you I'm sure, and you've been here from the outset, and I'm feeling it a little bit too, I think we all are -- it's tiring, but we're hanging in despite the fatigue, we're making progress, we are using all of that stick-to-itiveness that your mom and dad said were important, and they are too.

I'm real impressed with their resolve, and it's not just resolve that I see among family members, it's the resolve that I see on the part of the drill team members who are up there laboring at a feverish clip, and we're making progress, and I'm happy to report and confirm that we're down to 238 feet, with about six to go before we begin to break through that ceiling.

So, that's good news from our standpoint. Rescue shaft two, they are in the process of, and you'll remember this reference, this term -- they're fishing for an item within the shaft, we had a broken piece of equipment, and they are stopped at 195 feet.

So, hopefully they can get back on line -- we're -- although we now know that our focus on the success as it relates to rescue shaft one. The other important dimension through all this is our success of taking out the water, and we are succeeding. We are now down at the sea level -- 1828.24, we are below that desired level of -- sea level -- of 1829. So, we have the right circumstances for activating the real rescue steps that you and I know are important

To put it short, we're there.

So, with that, I will open it up to questions and ...


SCHWEIKER: Well, the pressure cap is already affixed to the shaft, and we can -- you know, that gives us ideal circumstances as far as the atmosphere, and we're not going to cast that aside, and there's certainly no reason to remove it.

So, it'll be there, and I guess you could say, "We've got the best of both worlds."

QUESTION: ... pressure down below (UNINTELLIGIBLE) may not need (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SCHWEIKER: Yes, and that gives me reason to bring up my interaction in a literal with Doctor Konkal (ph), who oversees the medical response team, and before I describe that, I think it is significant, because they are, at the ready -- we'll see -- we'll see if that is a condition favorable to the minors, I mean that's -- that's a wait and see thing.


SCHWEIKER: Yes, thank you -- I'd love too, because I'm impressed with, you know this now, I'm impressed with this large enterprise that's been assembled in 72 hours, whether its drilling equipment, to the federal assistance, to the medical transport assets, I mean, up there on that hill side are probably no less than 10 ambulances with the ALS (ph) or advanced life support equipment. We've got helicopters sitting up there, we've got 18 total -- out there ready, just for backup reasons, so we can immediately transport, whether it's the decision is for ground or by air, the miners -- when the come up.

But, today, earlier, not too long ago -- I had the chance to, you know, I talk with Doctor Konkal (ph) who oversees the medical readiness effort, and I believe it will be his people that will give the immediate assistance when they reach the top of the shaft and are placed on the stretcher.

And this says something about what I see as my role here in part, it's not just imparting information, its not just being counselor of sorts with the family members, it is to put people to the test -- put the technicians to the test, put the physicians to the test, and I put Doctor Konkal (ph) to the test, this is a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), he's knows about special emergency response, and we walked out of the command center and went on down, and I said, "Take me to the drill site," and let's walk -- let's walk through, and just prior to that I had -- I did have the opportunity place myself in the rescue capsule, and to understand the physicality of it.

It is confining, it's only 22 inches in circumference, and I wanted to experience it, and once we had done that, I talked to the crane operator, because the crane that you see up there now, is not going to be the crane we're going to use when we gently put that capsule over top and begin its descent.

They practiced that, and I had a chance to talk with him, but back to the walk with Doctor Konkal (ph), and they're going to -- ideally they're going to bring them up on to the stretcher and hurry up one of the hills, there's going to be six people carrying the stretcher, one perhaps two, if need be, are positions that can give medical attention immediately, and by the way -- not by the way -- essentially we can even, with some of this equipment, down in the chamber check heart rates even down there. And Doctor Konkal (ph) can do that with remote electronics.

So, and then up the hill and right on in to a decontamination tent, with some special equipment there to be cleaned off, because they're going to be littered with carbon, and you can't take someone that has been exposed, in that environment with -- laden with carbon and place them in the hyperbarric (ph) chamber, because it would be dangerous.

And so, they'll be cleaned up, and at that point they're going to make a more thorough examination of the miner with navy physicians, in Doctor Konkal's (ph) own words, "We got the best up there." And at that point decide what path they take.

It's one of two paths depending on their condition. If they're -- and I think we have a lot of reason to expect that they're going be in rough shape -- you could either go into the chamber and, you know, deal with condition, and then off into either an ambulance or a helicopter and go Connama (ph) Hospital, which is outstanding at the very least -- every -- with all the medical personnel they need to do the job for nine miners. And if there's -- so, that's one path, and if there are miners that remarkably so are in strong condition, then the idea is to -- we're going to hold them for 24 hours and send them off to Somerset Hospital, and that way family members can come together with them as quickly as they can.

The -- in the back of that barn though, information -- are the ambulances, and the helicopters, and with proximity to this location -- we've got additional medical assets for transport.

So, I guess the point I'm trying to make is that this enterprise is impressive, because it's been assembled in 72 hours, and I couldn't -- I'm going to sound like a boy scout, but my reaction when I stood at top of that hill, and saw that American flag up there was, what a country. We can put this all together in 72 hours, right here in southwestern Pennsylvania, and the hope, and the prayer, and the plan is, it's all going to be brought to bare, because we've got to nurse them back to a full life.

So, that is the work of Doctor Konkal (ph) and his team, and let's hope all of these team mates make history.

Yes, sir.



QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so the fact that the water level (UNINTELLIGIBLE) would that seem (ph) to rule out any need to use the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SCHWEIKER: I'm happy to answer a complex question with a tight answer -- yes. We're at a point -- we're calling what's a fixed to rescue shaft one, a pressure cap, and then the, that you just mentioned is not in play. It's there though -- doesn't seem like we're going to have to use it, go ahead.


SCHWEIKER: Circle delicate -- go to go real slow and, you know, the drill operator, and he has been here since that rig pulled up, I'm sure he's gotten some spotty sleep, but this is, this is, this is momentous work and requires gentility and I see it in his eyes and he wants to do his best, and is going to do his best -- and I think handled that way, we're going to get there and get on through and hopefully, largely preserve that chamber.


SCHWEIKER: I wouldn't go that far. I think because of that instinct and that concern we have the pressure cap fixed.


SCHWEIKER: Well, we are hopefully, I can give you a confirmation -- I did sit back there and ask this very question, as we conduct the news conference, is it -- if it happens how are you going to let me know, someone's probably going to hand me something any second.


SCHWEIKER: Wonderful, and a long way to go.


SCHWEIKER: Oh no, that's going to be soon. I think the -- well am I asked the same question, and let me do my best and repeat what the professionals told me and that is this; once that happens we have to take the second hour or the following hour and remove the steel from the shaft. It's going to take a solid 60 minutes, there's a lot of laborious work tied to that effort and then you'll send down the rescue capsule with that sophisticated equipment.

So, that's -- to answer your question, we're probably at least, and I got to get this confirmed, and hopefully that's the case, but probably three hours away, and so far we haven't been real good at our predictions panning out for you.

Go ahead.


SCHWEIKER: Well the -- I'm saying on the -- it seems like on the outside, we'd be at the point where we can, we know the atmospheric conditions -- an hour or so to get the steel out, an hour or so to send in the rescue capsule with that equipment.

QUESTION: Does it take an hour to bring it back up? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

SCHWEIKER: Yes, it does have to stay there, and it has to bring it back up, because it's not real time reporting. The camera is, and the video that it provides is, but as far as the assessment of the atmosphere, it has to come back up with those cartridges and has to be fed in, and then the printouts are generated, and then the pros make their assessment about how receptive we'll be to the atmosphere, and then we send it back down and hopefully, ideally so, we're going to be able to get people in it.

QUESTION: Last question, last question -- put the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

SCHWEIKER: Yes, oh yes it is, it's a two way communication device, and ...


SCHWEIKER: Oh, yes -- it's going to -- we'll put it right down, and I would suspect, I would suspect, get them right on in, and bring them right on out. But, and -- I would think and -- you know, forgive me for not having had the opportunity to contemplate every possible development or scenario, but I would think we would ask that person, "Could you compare yourselves to the other eight," and -- you know, someone is in an alarmingly deficient state, then give way to the raising that person first.

But, Doctor Konkal (ph), and a few others will be at that console involved in this communication, so ...


SCHWEIKER: Nope, if I, and we're -- let me tell you this; we are sensitive to the families hearing first. That doesn't mean this has happened, what is the basis for your question, but we're going to -- we've got people, well -- I think we're going to know.

We've got a person literally next to the drill, with the ability to provide someone a message that would walk up -- rather than these two gentleman right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, everyone. Thanks very much.

SCHWEIKER: Thank you. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks very much.

SCHWEIKER: We're getting there.


LIN: All right, you've been watching Governor Mark Schweiker, Governor of Pennsylvania, give the very latest on the rescue operation of these nine miners he says six more feet, six more feet and perhaps as little as three hours to go before we know if these men can be rescued and are still alive.

CNN'S Jeff Flock standing by there at that live news conference.

Jeff, it sounds like a lot of reason to hope that such a critical and delicate operation that they're undertaking right now in these last few feet?

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol, I don't know if you can hear me. I was just over there trying to get some confirmation. It's OK, we got a big group here. I was just over there trying to get some confirmation on what we heard is a question, which was someone reporting that they had heard from the scene that someone had broken through. I'm not able to do that yet. And I'm going to try and put you in touch also with Dave Hess, who you know, will also be in a position to know it before anyone else, but they claim right now they cannot yet confirm this. So that's where it stands.

But as you heard, and to clarify on the numbers, we were reporting earlier needing to get around 238 or so. That was shaft two in terms of where they were drilling that. They need to get 244. So they're six feet away. They're my height away. And Lord knows, they could be -- I'm trying to see if Betsy Mallison is confirming that for us now...

LIN: Hey, Jeff?

FLOCK: I can't do it for you yet. I'm sorry. Sorry, Carol.

LIN: I mean, if you need to go, tell me. That's OK. Do you need to go and check and see whether in fact they have punched through yet?

FLOCK: Let -- give me two seconds here. You know what? I'm going to just to listen real quick to what Dave is saying. He's not saying that, is he? Not yet, OK. All right, now I tried.

LIN: We're on the fly here, buddy.

FLOCK: At some point, we'll let you know. We will let you know as soon as we do.

LIN: All right, maybe you can clarify a couple of things that we heard the governor talk about there. Because I think it's hard for us -- for those of us who aren't there to really understand -- oh wait a second, Jeff, we're just hearing that the Associated Press is now reporting that they have broken through. So what would that mean then? That they've gone that...

FLOCK: Let me get...


FLOCK: ...Dave's face. Let me get it up in Dave's face and see if we can get him to tell us real quick here, because he's listening here. Hang on -- let me -- I'm going to put that right to Dave. I've got the Associated Press now saying that they punched through. Is there any way we can nail that down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're awaiting confirmation of that from M. Shaw. And we want to make sure that if that has happened, that the families have been notified.

FLOCK: So it may well have happened, but you want to make sure those families are notified?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are awaiting confirmation from M. Shaw. And we want to make sure that the families have been notified first.

FLOCK: I heard you both times. David, I appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you. OK, I think that's -- I don't know if you were able to read between the lines there as maybe I was. And I'm just going to leave it.

LIN: Yes, it sounds pretty positive, Jeff.

FLOCK: You heard what he said. I'm just going to leave it there.

LIN: Yes, it sounds pretty positive.

FLOCK: It kind of does.

LIN: It just sounds like as a courtesy to the families, who are about three miles away at this abandoned fire house, where they're staying, that they are the first and naturally the first to hear the news. But let's say, hypothetically at this point, let's say if it is true, that means, according to the governor who described then this very painstaking process that has to take place, and it may take for about an hour. Can you describe what needs to happen next? Because they're not just going to pull these guys out right away?

FLOCK: Exactly. I hope everybody's good to stay up late, because indeed, if in fact this has happened, what they need to do first is to make sure they go all the way down through and through the floor of where they are, because they want to make sure they clear it completely out.

Then up comes that bit, that 1,500-pound bit. That's going to take about an hour to get that bit up out of the hole. Then they go ahead and move the crane in place with that basket. That's when they begin to drop the basket through. And then they got to make sure that the hole has properly been ringed out on the way up, so that you don't get the basket hung up. That's another reason they're not putting any rescue people in the basket on the way down. They don't want to get somebody stuck in there.

So then they dropped that all the way down. That's when they then begin to see their live feed, well wish we could see that, their live feed to the surface via cable of what that camera is going to see down there. So indeed, we're looking at well over another hour, even after they've punched through. And I'm looking around again to see if somebody will really nail it down for me, but I'm not doing that.

So that's what they're up against, Carol.

LIN: Feel free, Jeff. I know you've got to have your antenna up and you're also dealing with us and so many of our questions here. The governor also talked about rescue equipment being sent down in this capsule and something about carbon cartridges. Can you explain who is going to be using the rescue equipment and why are those carbon cartridges so critical in the air quality or the air pressure?

FLOCK: They want to do two things with that. One, they want to test what's going on down there. They don't want to put a rescue guy down there, an EMT. It'll be an EMT who's a specialist in mine rescue. They don't want to put him down into a tremendously dangerous environment because what happens is, say they get down there and they don't see any activity? They're then inclined to put a man down in there to go looking, but if it's a very dangerous environment that perhaps has resulted in the death of these miners, they don't want to put another live man down there, who's going to have problems. So that's problem one.

The carbon issue is apparently, and I don't know exactly why this is, but if you put somebody in a hyper barric (ph) chamber who is laced with carbon, you run the risk of causing a major problem. Wish I was a doctor who could tell you exactly why that is. Some people at home, I'm sure, know better than I do, but apparently, that's something you don't want to do. So they've got to be doused, essentially, and cleared of all the carbon before they go in the hyper barric (ph) chamber, if in fact they have to go in the hyper barric (ph) chamber. So that's why that is.

LIN: There you go. All right, thank you very much. Jeff Flock, we're going to take a break to give you a break so that you can go and confirm what we're already hearing from the Associated Press. The governor was reporting only six more feet to punch through that mine shaft. And it sounds like, according to the Associated Press, they may be at that point.

So Jeff, let us let you go. We're going to take a quick break.

FLOCK: 10-4.

LIN: Thank you.




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