SOMERSET, Pa., July 25 (UPI) -- A special drill brought in from West Virginia is being used to free nine miners trapped Thursday in a flooded coal mine in Pennsylvania.
"We still believe there are miners alive. We obviously don't know," David Hess, head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, told reporters. "This is a very tricky and dangerous situation, and I don't want to raise expectations."
Rescuers will attempt to drill a 30-inch hole to pull the miners from a flooded shaft about 230 feet down, and state officials said it could take up to 18 hours to reach the men.
Pennsylvania officials estimate 50 million to 60 million gallons of water may have entered the mine since Wednesday night when the mine was first breached after workers drilled too close to an adjacent abandoned mine that had filled with water.
A smaller hole had to been drilled to where the miners are believed trapped, about 8,000 feet from the mine entrance, and oxygen is being pumped to them.
The Quecreek Mine, located about 50 miles to 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh near the Maryland border, is about 10 miles from where Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11 after passengers attempted to attack the hijackers.
"The mine was breached with water at about 9 p.m. Wednesday night and another nine-member crew, that was working closer to the entrance, just managed to escape the water that was up to their necks," Karl Lasher, spokesman for the Pennsylvania DEP, told United Press International.
The coal miners were using the room-and-pillar method of mining, where machinery is used to dig out room-size holes in the underground mine and pillars of coal are left behind to hold up the mine ceiling in a 60-40 ratio.
"Abandoned mines often fill with water and since mining has been going on in Pennsylvania for more than 100 years, many of the abandoned mines are not mapped or their location is wrong," Lasher said. "The water-filled abandoned mine was last used about 50 years ago and the men thought it was farther away from the mine in which they were working."
According to Lasher, pumps have been set up to pump water out of the mine where the rescue is taking place, but state officials were scrambling to get more pumps to keep up with the 45-foot to 65-foot wall of water.
The Pennsylvania DEP in Harrisburg, Pa., was unable to identity for which company the miners worked, because the mining permit appeared to be transferred or subcontracted to another company from the original permit.
Family members of the miners gathered in a fire hall close to the mine to await word from rescuers.