Sunday marks 10-year anniversary of deadly Crandall Canyon Mine collapse

Posted at 10:14 PM, Aug 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-07 09:19:58-04

EMERY COUNTY, Utah -- Ten years ago Sunday, there was a "mine bump" deep in the bowels of the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah’s coal country.

Over the next few days, six trapped miners would be left for dead and three more men would perish trying to rescue them.

The Crandall Canyon Mine is in Emery County, about 15 miles from the town of Huntington.

The local and national news media descended on the mine and made its owner Robert "Bob" Murray a household name.

"This is a rescue mission and we are proceeding as if the men are alive,” Murray, the owner of Utah American Energy, said at the time.

Trapped nearly 3.5 miles from the entrance were miners Kerry Allred, 58, Don Erickson, 50, Luis Hernandez, 23, Carolos Payan, 22, Brandon Phillips, 24, and Manuel Sanchez, 41.

At first there was optimism the trapped miners could be saved, but after several days of digging rescuers weren't even halfway to the men.

So efforts switched to boring several holes into the mineshaft. One punched a 2.5-inch hole 1,800 feet into the area the miners were expected to be located. Air samples proved there was good air for the miners to breathe, but a microphone dropped into the shaft picked up no sounds at all.

Murray took exception to reports of dangerous conditions in the mine.

"This was an earthquake,” he said at the time. “Contrary to what others would like you to believe, it had nothing to do with our mining activity.”

Seismographs recorded the event with magnitudes of 3.9 and 4.0. But University of Utah scientists determined the seismic activity was due to the mine collapse, not an earthquake.

On August 16, almost ten days after the first collapse, there was a second incident.

And this time three rescuers: Dale "Bird" Black, 49, Gary Jensen, 53—who was an inspector for MSHA, and Brandon Kimber, 29, were killed.

Soon after, MSHA called off the search. The bodies of the six trapped miners were never recovered. A plaque at the site reminds visitors they are entering sacred ground.

That October, family members testified at congressional hearings investigating the mine collapse.

“I just miss him and, I don't know, I would like to know where my son is in that hole,” said Sheila Phillips, the mother of Brandon Phillips, during her testimony.

On July 24, 2008, MSHA handed out its highest penalty for coal mine safety violations in connection with the incident: $1.85 million. Most of that amount, $1.34 million, was levied against Murray's company for violations that MSHA said: "directly contributed to the deaths of the six miners."