Nine years ago this week, the eyes of the world were on Somerset County, as nine miners had their lives in the hands of others, as they were trapped more than 200 feet underground for 77 hours in a flooded coal mine.
On Saturday, at the Quecreek Mine Rescue site at Dormel farm near Somerset, people took part in the anniversary celebration of their rescue and got a look at the new visitor’s center.
“Sometimes it seems like it was a lifetime ago. It is always very special to know that we have come to another year, another celebration of nine men being rescued successfully and all 18 men who were in the mine returned safely back to their families.”
It took teams of emergency rescue workers from state, local and federal levels to free the men from the mine.
Families waited at the Sipesville fire hall for news on their loved ones.
Now, parts of the same fire hall are incorporated into the design of the new visitor’s center. The fire hall door, sign and two columns are now part of the permanent display in the center.
They have been building the visitors center for more than two years to accommodate the thousands of people who come to visit. He said visitors have been at Quecreek from every continent in the world, except Antarctica.
Arnold said it is very important to remember what happened in July of 2002 at the Quecreek site since “it was kind of a turning point for America after what took place at Shanksville only 10 months before. I think America was still reeling from the attacks of 9/11 and I think the Quecreek rescue happening only nine miles away from Shanksville was kind of a turning point where American stood back proudly and said we are Americans and we will survive no matter what. We will persevere.”
Attending on Saturday was Tom Foy, one of the rescued miners. He was there with his wife Denise, who said she liked making the visit to the site because it showed “everyone pulled together” in the rescue of her husband and the eight others.
Foy — wearing a shirt with a number three on it to signify that he was the third man brought to the surface that eventful day — said he now works for Center Rock Inc. of Berlin which made the drilling machine that helped in the rescue 33 miners in trapped underground in Chile last year.
“I felt good once we got them out. I knew it was going to be a task there, because they were down 2,000 feet. Like we said, we had the equipment that could do it, so let’s take it over and give it a whirl. We did it.” Foy said of the international rescue.
He admitted that he still has a lot of apprehension about his own rescue. “I don’t come back here very often but usually do on the anniversary,” he said about being at there. “I don’t like to talk about it and when I come back it just brings back to many memories. I just like to come like I did today because this is the reason we are still here.”
Foy’s son-in-law Blaine Mayhugh, another of the rescued miners, was at the observance with his wife Leslie.
“I usually come back for the anniversary unless I have a fishing trip or my boy was playing baseball in tournaments so we couldn’t make it. Last Saturday my wife and I came back and saw the stuff from the Sipesville fire hall, which looks like the real deal. You could see it brought back a lot of emotion to my wife.” Mayhugh said.
“I like to come back on the anniversary to thank the people who did so much for us,” he said.
Leslie Mayhugh remembered being one of the family member’s waiting at the Quecreek Fire Hall. When she saw the steps from the fire hall now at the visitors center, she said it brought back many memories. “I spent time sitting on the steps waiting for word on my husband and father.”
“I had to look at the sky above and just pray to God,” she said. “When they told us the actual situation they were facing — having a miracle was the only way they were going to get out alive.”
She said the anniversary gives her time “to remember the good things because good things do happen. Being here is more of a way to pay our respect to the rescue workers who helped get them out.”
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk said Bill and Lori Arnold were the “driving force behind getting the visitors center being built, because things like this do not just happen. This is just a good example of the people of Somerset County working together. That is what gave this county the designation of America’s County.”
Joseph Sbaffoni, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Mine Safety, said he attends the anniversary every year, “for everyone who was involved with this rescue it sure left a special place in all their hearts. I feel a need to come to run in to some of the miners who were involved and some of the families we were interacting with during the rescue. It is just a special place. A lot went on here”
A special presentation was made during the anniversary celebration. The flag flown over the Quecreek Mine Rescue site was retired and presented by Boy Scout Donnie McDaniels to Keith Newlin, the superintendent of Flight 93 National Memorial.
Newlin said he was not sure where the flag would be displayed. “We are still planning our larger exhibits at the visitor’s center of Flight 93. At some point in time, we may have something on the response of the county to Flight 93, but it is going in our collection right down.”
Former state Rep. Bob Bastian reflected on his thoughts while the miners were trapped. “I sat and watched and I prayed and then I sat and watched and I prayed again, like most of you did.” He also commended all the work being done by the Arnolds at the site.
For more information on the rescue visit www.9for9.org online.