By Barbara Stinson Lee
Catholic News Service
HUNTINGTON, Ind. (CNS) — Father Donald E. Hope, pastor of a mission church near the mine where six miners remained trapped, said that wherever he goes, people ask, “What can we do for the families of the trapped miners?”
In locations from the parishes and missions of central Utah to its grocery stores, people have wanted to know what they can do for the families of the men trapped since Aug. 6, a mile inside and 1,800 feet down the Crandall Canyon Mine.
On Aug. 17, the question changed, coming now from the families of the trapped miners: “What can we do for the families of the rescue workers who died in the mine?”
Another cave-in took the life of three rescue workers and injured six others Aug. 16. They had been trying to dig underground through rubble to try to reach the trapped miners. The following day the head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration said underground rescue efforts were being suspended indefinitely.
On Aug. 19 at a press conference after meeting with families, mine co-owner and vice president Rob Moore said it was “likely that these miners will not be found.”
Later that day the trapped miners’ families broke their silence, holding a press conference attended by 75 family members. Their spokesman, lawyer Sonny Olsen, said the families have been requesting the use of a rescue capsule “since day one.”
The capsule, which can lower a miner into the depth of the mine to look for survivors, would necessitate drilling a 30-inch hole from the top of the mine to an area where the trapped miners are believed to have taken refuge.
Speaking from a prepared statement, Olsen said: “Precious time has been squandered.” He implied mine officials have not been listening to the families’ concerns and suggestions.
An AP story said family members pleaded with mine officials to continue the rescue efforts. AP also said an attorney for the mining company said safety experts believe the mountain is too unstable to allow a hole for a capsule to be drilled.
“This morning, the tension between the families and the mining company seems to have lessened,” Father Hope said Aug. 20 in an interview with the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. “The mining company has agreed to include the families in any decisions that are made regarding further rescue efforts. The miners’ families seem much better today.”
The trapped miners have been identified as Kerry Allred, 58, of Cleveland, Utah, a father of three; Don Erickson, 57; Juan Carlos Payan, 22, an immigrant from Pericos in Sinaloa, Mexico; Brandon Phillips, 24, of Orangeville, Utah, who had worked in the Crandall Canyon Mine only three weeks; Manuel “Manny” Sanchez of Price, Utah; and Luis Hernandez, 23, an immigrant from the town of Costa Rica in Sinaloa, Mexico, the father of a 1-year-old daughter.
The rescuers who died were Dale Ray Black, 48, from Huntington; Brandon Kimber, 29, Price; and Gary Jensen, 48, Price. Six other rescue workers were injured and hospitalized.
Father Hope is pastor of Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish in Price and three central Utah missions, including San Rafael Mission in Huntington, near the mine.
He has been shuttling from family to family since Aug. 6, bringing comfort, prayer and the concern of the community, which has grown into a worldwide community as people all over waited for news of the miners.
In an earlier interview, the priest told the Intermountain Catholic that the families of the trapped were meeting daily with mine officials, “and sometimes those meetings have been very emotional.”
Since Aug. 6, workers from the mine and the Mining Safety and Health Administration have drilled bore hole after bore hole into the mine from outside, seeking signs and sounds indicating the six trapped miners were alive, but a microphone and a video camera lowered through the holes recorded no sign of the men.
Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, in a homily Aug. 8 during a Mass for the miners, their families, rescue workers, and Mission San Rafael community, urged participants to continue to ask God for help.
“There is so much we want to say, but it is difficult to find the right words for a situation like this,” said Bishop Wester during the Mass that was concelebrated by Father Hope and Father Omar Ontiveros, a native of Mexico and pastoral assistant at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.
“We are here to lend our love, our support, and our prayers to the trapped miners and their families, and also to their rescuers,” the bishop said.
“At times like this it is difficult to remember that as we are overcome with feelings of anxiety, sadness, even anger, that we can and should bring all of those feelings to God. Those feelings should be part of our prayer,” he said.