Huntington, Utah -- The slow-motion rescue of six trapped miners was expected to reach a critical stage yesterday evening, as a 2-inch-wide drill hole is due to reach the workers and determine whether they survived Monday's mine collapse.
Rescue teams will drop a microphone and camera 1,800 feet down the shaft to try to locate the miners, who are trained to beat on the roof if they hear a drill coming toward them. No noise has been picked up from the area of the mine where the six workers were trapped during a pre-dawn cave-in.
This small town was on pins and needles as a church vigil drew friends, family and other miners from around this coal-rich area.
"I wonder how they're doing," said Victor Pacheco Sr., 70, who added that he has been unable to think of anything else since the cave-in.
Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., which owns the mine, said there should be enough air in the cavity and emergency water supplies to have enabled his workers to survive if they weren't killed in the initial cave-in.
But at a morning news conference he acknowledged that there was a possibility that rescuers would hear nothing as they breached the roof of the cavity.
Murray has insisted that an earthquake triggered the early Monday morning collapse, but seismologists have said they believe the 3.9 temblor they registered was triggered by the cave-in.
Murray said that he was optimistic about the miners' chances for survival because the roof of the mine appears largely intact. After the 2-inch hole is drilled - provided that it does reach the chasm and finds that there are survivors - it will be joined by an 8-inch hole that will enable rescuers to drop more food and water to the miners.
Then workers will dig through the mine debris to extract the miners, a process that could take more than a week.
The wait continued to take a toll on this close community. Though the miners' identities have not been officially released - and the identity of three have yet to be confirmed by family members - many in the area know them well.
They include Kerry Allred, a boisterous wiry 58-year-old redhead known as "Flash," renowned for his impersonations of the Simpsons' character Mr. Burns. Allred is a 30-year veteran of the mines.
"He was just a happy guy," said Debbie Allred, 34, a cousin by marriage. "Every time you'd see him driving down the street, he'd press his face against the driver's window and wave. If you didn't wave back, he'd follow you. You'd learn to wave at him."
Ashley Powers and Nicholas Riccardi write for the Los Angeles Times.