They’re older now, however nonetheless sturdy. A number of stroll slowly, one with a cane. They use nicknames they gave one another greater than 20 years in the past when their lives — entrusted to at least one one other of their harmful work — turned perpetually entwined in historical past.
The Quecreek miners, whose story of entrapment, near-death and rescue captivated an anxious nation 20 years in the past, met for a reunion on a balmy night earlier this month on the Somerset Nation Membership in Somerset, Pa.
It was the primary time in a decade all surviving miners had gathered, a part of a weekend of celebratory occasions — together with a Nascar race in Jennerstown, Pa., — to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of their dramatic story.
Sporting polo-style shirts, informal shorts and denims, they stood in a Pennsylvania area, birch timber behind them, joking with a photographer and one another. The youngest, Harry “Blaine” Mayhugh, 51, took greater than his share of ribbing: “Loosen up, film star!”
From July 24 to July 28, 2002, lower than a yr after the fear assaults of Sept. 11 horrified the world, a smaller information story gathered pressure on this nation: the story of 9 miners trapped a whole lot of ft beneath floor, their oxygen provide dwindling because the water rose round them.
The nation prayed for these males in Pennsylvania’s coal nation for over three days as their households gathered in a fireplace station. Leslie Mayhugh, who’s married to Blaine and is the daughter of miner Thomas “Tucker” Foy, 72, recalled her desperation on the time. “There have been preachers, docs and counselors within the fireplace corridor saying, ‘You’ve obtained to maintain constructive,’ however I saved considering, ‘I can’t lose my dad and my husband in the identical day.’ Our two little ones, seven and eight years outdated, asking the place their dad was and their Pappy Tom have been. We saved praying. I had the children go to my mother’s home [because] we didn’t need them on the fireplace corridor if the information was dangerous.”
Round 3 o’clock on July 24, the miners had reported for a typical day’s work, digging for coal utilized in energy crops to make electrical energy. All was properly till simply earlier than 9 p.m., after they minimize into an deserted mine, releasing 150 million gallons of water into Quecreek. (It was later found their employers had equipped them with outdated, inaccurate maps).
Because the water burst by means of, Dennis “Harpo” Corridor, the shuttle automobile operator, jumped on a telephone to warn others working close by. Due to Corridor, a separate crew of 9 miners made it out safely.
However the remaining 9 have been trapped 245 ft beneath floor. Scrambling to seek out viable exits, they realized all have been flooded in order that they huddled on the highest level they might attain. Rising water knocked out the telephone line, leaving them with no option to communicate to anybody exterior the mine. For eight hours, they vomited and gasped for breath as oxygen dwindled. Mentioned Miner Robert “Boogie” Pugh, 70: “I figured we have been accomplished for.”
However at 2:50 a.m., they heard a blessed sound: drilling. “You could possibly hear them upstairs working,” stated Pugh. “We had nothing else however to sit down there and pray and hope for the perfect. We have been praying onerous.”
The miners who escaped earlier had notified authorities. Beneath the management of then-Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker, a plan was hatched to pinpoint the precise spot to drill by means of 245 ft of rock and plumb in a pipe that will carry the boys recent air.
At 5:10 a.m., the pipe punched by means of the rock. Overjoyed, the miners beat on the metal pipe 9 instances to sign they have been all alive.
However their ordeal was removed from over.
For the subsequent two and a half days, as a whole lot of emergency responders labored around the clock to drill a rescue shaft and pump out tens of millions of gallons of water that threatened to fully flood the mine, the miners reassured one another to stave off panic.
“One man stated, ‘I’m gonna get out of right here now!’” stated Pugh. “We calmed him down . . . We instructed him, ‘You possibly can’t go nowhere . . .take it straightforward. If it involves it, we are going to all drown collectively, that’s all.’”
“I prayed to God he’d give me the power to just accept no matter was his will,” recalled miner John “Ung” Unger, 72. He added, “We knew one another properly sufficient to know we’d help one another.”
They rationed the lunches and thermoses of water that they had introduced with them for simply sooner or later of labor. A corned beef sandwich that one man’s spouse had packed was divided 9 methods. Slowly, the lights on their onerous hats burned out one after the other.
They “talked about household and buddies, what we’d do if we obtained out,” stated Unger.
“There was loads of silence, too, everybody in his personal ideas,” stated miner Ronald “Hound Canine” Hileman, 69. “Everyone accomplished loads of prayin’, that’s for positive.”
All moist within the bone-chilling chilly, the boys lay shut collectively for heat.
“One would flip over and we’d all have to show over since you’d be inhaling your buddy’s face, and it was so chilly,” recalled Pugh.
There was additionally ache as a result of the boys have been positioned on prime of coal seams, or elements of the mine the place onerous coal is embedded inside rock.
At one level, the drilling stopped. “I used to be considering I’d reasonably have died of no oxygen than drowning,” Pugh stated.
Even because the drilling resumed, the boys started to lose hope. In water to their chins, a number of of them agreed to tie themselves collectively to assist rescue groups to seek out them within the occasion of their deaths — and in addition to help one another.
By the fourth day, in water to their necks, the boys wrote goodbyes to their households on shreds of cardboard, utilizing a pen belonging to their boss, Randall Fogle, 68. They put the notes in a lunch pail with a water-tight lid, securing it with electricians’ tape, the place rescuers may discover it.
“You understand you’re on the finish of the road if you’re writing your loved ones a letter telling them, ‘Goodbye, don’t fear about us, we’ll be in a greater place,’” stated Mayhugh.
Lastly, at 10:15 p.m., after greater than 45 hours of drilling, the rescuers’ drill broke by means of rock, making a rescue shaft. A slim yellow rescue capsule was lowered to carry the boys out. “We had half smiles on our faces considering, ‘We could get out of right here,’” recalled Pugh. “We have been all completely happy inside, however we weren’t celebrating but.”
The miners agreed on who can be rescued first.
“The boss went first as a result of he was having chest pains,” stated Unger.
They selected who would go subsequent: these in fragile well being, youthful males, and people with younger kids.
The final out have been Pugh and Mark “Mo” Popernack, 61.
“I instructed Mo, ‘Go forward, I’ll be the final one,’” recalled Pugh.
“Mo stated, ‘Boogie, you go.’
“I stated, ‘Go, you be along with your children, you’ve obtained youthful children.’
“Mo stated, ‘You go.’
“So I lastly stated, ‘OK, I’m not going to argue. I’m gettin’ the hell outta right here!’”
When each single final man had reached the floor, their households, who have been watching the rescue broadcast on a TV that had been introduced into the fireplace corridor, set free a large cry: “9 for 9!” That joyous outburst reverberated throughout the airwaves at a time when Individuals longed for hope.
“The teamwork is what I recall,” stated Schweiker, who now serves as senior vp of Renmatix, a biotech analysis firm, and attended the miners’ reunion. “The entire is larger than the sum of its elements. That’s a lesson that’s timeless, even in 2022.”
Pugh stated the expertise made him a greater man.
“God provides you a second likelihood and also you attempt to make the perfect of it,” he stated. “At one time, I used to run over a possum and never give it some thought. Now I am going round them . . . I respect life far more.”
As we speak, the Quecreek mine is closed and simply eight males survive. Dennis “Harpo” Corridor died this yr on Could 13 at 68.
“Harpo would’ve wished to be right here,” Mayhugh stated wistfully, his fellow miners gathered earlier than sundown. Standing together with his spouse, Leslie, and father-in-law, Tom, within the breezy night, he added, “I really imagine it was a miracle.”
At a time of division in America, the rescue of all 9 of the miners stands as a testomony to the ability of religion, unity and cooperation.
“So many good folks prayed for us,” stated Pugh. “I by no means knew we had so many good folks on the planet.
“There was 9 of us, and God was the tenth man,” he added. “If you happen to’re down and out, don’t surrender. Don’t give up.
“I by no means believed in miracles.
“Till I ended up being a part of one.”