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Senate announces plans for hearing on mine collapse as searchers drill final test hole
Utah Mine Collapse 6400372
Lacee Taylor, center, a girlfriend of Brandon Phillips, one of six coal miners trapped inside the Crandall Canyon Mine, talks to reporters as Taylor's mother Jackie watches on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007, in Huntington, Utah. At right is Brandon's sister Cassie Phillips. Officials said a sixth exploratory hole 1,700 feet below ground would be drilled beginning Thursday, officials said, and Kuzar said it will be in the area where the miners were last believed to have been working. - photo by Associated Press
    HUNTINGTON, Utah — As rescuers drilled a final hole into a Utah mountain Thursday to search for six missing coal miners, the U.S. Senate added its voice to a growing chorus of questions raised over the safety of the mine.
    The Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees labor issues announced plans for a hearing on the mine collapse when Congress returns from its summer break Sept. 5.
    Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also demanded a list of documents Thursday from the Labor Department about the Crandall Canyon Mine and its operators.
    Kennedy wants to review several petitions the mine’s co-owner, Bob Murray, made to the Mine Safety and Health Administration for changes in his mining plans at Crandall Canyon, among other documents. Experts have said the proposed changes were risky and could have led to the Aug. 6 cave-in that trapped six miners.
    Company officials did not immediately respond to e-mailed requests for comment.
    At the mine, crews began working on a sixth test hole to try to locate the missing men. They have lowered cameras and listening devices into five other narrow holes but found no signs of the miners and no evidence of life. The sixth hole will head toward an area where the miners were last believed to have been working, some 1,500 feet below the surface.
    ‘‘This is the last hole,’’ Murray said Wednesday night. Drilling it, he said, will ‘‘bring closure to me that I could never get them out alive.’’
    Murray, once confident the men would be found, recently said they might have to remain entombed in the mountain if they can’t be located.
    Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman disagreed Thursday, saying the bodies need to be removed for their families’ peace of mind.
    ‘‘I do think the way the families have been treated is unconscionable,’’ Huntsman said.
    Jackie Taylor, whose daughter Lacee dates one of the six missing miners, said relatives and friends are insisting more be done. Even though three searchers were killed by another cave-in as they tried to tunnel toward the miners, other mine workers in the area are willing to continue the effort, she said.
    ‘‘They’re here, they’ll help the mine rescuers, they’re waiting to help if they’ll let them,’’ Taylor said Wednesday. ‘‘And we are so grateful for the rescuers and everyone that has helped us. We are so grateful, don’t get us wrong.’’
    The fifth narrow hole that had been drilled into the mine punched through on Wednesday but revealed only a 6-inch void in the mine 1,500 feet down, federal officials said. No noise was heard from the hole after a microphone was lowered and workers banged on the drill steel, said Jack Kuzar, a district manager for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
    The collapse that trapped the miners is believed to have been caused by settling layers of earth bearing down on the walls of a coal mine. The force can cause mine pillars to fail, turning chunks of coal into missiles. The unpredictable and dangerous phenomenon is known by miners as a ‘‘bump.’’
    Critics and mine experts have questioned whether mining should have been conducted at Crandall Canyon at all because of the potential for collapses.
    Murray said he would not resume mining at the Crandall Canyon mine.
    ‘‘I can tell you right now, we are not going back into that mountain,’’ he said.
    He has insisted the collapse was caused by a natural earthquake, but government seismologists say the collapse itself is what caused the ground to shake, registering a magnitude of 3.9. Since then there have been several other bumps.
    ‘‘Had I known that this evil mountain, this alive mountain, would do what it did, I would never have sent the miners in here,’’ Murray said earlier. ‘‘I’ll never go near that mountain again.’’
    The Senate subcommittee wants to question Murray at its hearing next month, along with MSHA chief Richard Stickler.
    Most of the surviving Crandall Canyon workers have been given jobs at two other mines in central Utah’s coal belt, although a small crew remains at Crandall Canyon, Murray said.
    Associated Press writers Chelsea J. Carter, Michael Rubinkam and Jessica Gresko contributed to this report from Huntington.

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