Officials continue search for 6 trapped Utah coal miners

Associated Press Writer

HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) - Despite three weeks of drilling and digging that have revealed no signs of life from six men trapped inside a collapsed coal mine, an attorney for families of the miners said Sunday the search will continue.

Lawyer Colin King said federal and company officials told him and the miners' relatives that a robotic camera would be lowered into a hole drilled during previous efforts to find the men. The camera is similar to one used to search within the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It can take images in the darkened cavern from about 50 yards away with the help of a strong light, and has a much wider range than previous cameras used in the search efforts in part because of its ability to crawl through rubble, he said.

The announcement came a day after crews penetrated the mine with a sixth borehole, finding a debris-filled area too small for the men to survive, according to King and the Web site of the federal mine safety agency.

Federal and company officials said a Sunday afternoon news conference was planned on those results.

King said a mine company lawyer told families that a seventh borehole was being considered. That one might be drilled into the kitchen area of the mine, an area where miners are trained to flee in case of collapse.

King said the robotic camera would lowered into the fourth borehole, which was drilled more than 1,500 feet into the mountain.

That was done after mysterious vibrations were detected by aboveground monitors for about 5 minutes on Aug. 15, but when that drill broke through three days later, there was silence.

Crews spent at least four hours banging on the drill steel and setting off explosives in an effort to get a response, but without results.

Air monitors sent into that area of the mine showed insufficient oxygen to support life. The Crandall Canyon miners were last heard from about 3 a.m. Aug. 6, just before a thunderous shudder inside the mountain cracked the ribs of the mine and filled passageways with debris, cutting off an exit route.

It's never been clear if they survived the cave-in. Earlier bore holes produced hazy images and air samples so depleted of oxygen as to be unable to support life.

Repeated efforts to signal the miners have met with silence. Horizontal digging through the rubble-filed mine shaft was halted after a second collapse killed three rescuers and injured six others Aug. 16.

Federal Mine Health and Safety Administration officials say the instability of the mountain makes it too risky to resume underground digging or to drill a hole widen enough to send a manned rescue capsule into the mine.

Seismologists describe the mountain as crumbling in upon itself, bursting support pillars as it shifts in a phenomena known as mountain bumps.

Despite promises made to the men's families to find the six miners dead or alive, mine co-owner Bob Murray had said the sixth borehole, drilled more than 1,700 feet deep, would be the last before sealing the mine.

"If we don't find anybody alive, there is nowhere else that anyone in MSHA or our company would know anywhere to drill," Murray said last week. MSHA officials have not specifically said they'll close the mine, but have grown increasingly pessimistic about the chances of finding the men alive or even recovering their bodies.

--- Associated Press Writer Jennifer Dobner contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)