Image Source: Screen capture from video.

After a long week of worry, hope, fear, and stressful conditions, the search for the 4 missing miners finally came to an end. None of them survived. Governor Joe Manchin stated:

“We did not receive the miracle that we prayed for.” … “The rescue workers told us they’re sure no one suffered.” … “So, this journey has ended and now the healing will start.”

All 4 bodies were shattered by an explosion that happened in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine earlier this week, raising the death toll to 29 and making it the worst US coal mine disaster since 1970. Many had hoped the miners would have found refuge in one of the mine’s emergency chambers, which all contain food, water, and enough air to keep them alive for up to 4 days. Unfortunately, according to the search and rescue team, none of the chambers were deployed.

The explosion left behind quite the mess of debris for rescue teams to struggle through, plus large amounts of smoke and poisonous gases to contend with. Rescue efforts had to be stopped several times throughout the week because the amount of poisonous gas in the mine was deemed unsafe for search teams. The gas was cleared out through several holes drilled deep into the mine.

However, nothing could have prepared rescue workers for the shocking realization that hit them late last night. The conditions of the mine were so terrible that it took search teams several days to realize they walked past the bodies of the 4 missing miners on the very first day of the search, without even seeing they were there. MSHA coal administrator, Kevin Stricklin, said:

“There was so much smoke and the conditions were so dire with dust in the air that they apparently bypassed the bodies that were on the ground.”

Now that the search and rescue mission is over, another one will begin. All of the 22 remaining bodies have yet to be removed from the mine. Officials say this will take some time, since there are miles of debris to get through during the process. Thorough investigations of Massey Energy, the company that owns the mine, can also be expected to happen.

Massey has a long history of safety violations, though CEO Don Blankenship disputes the whole thing, acting as if he is not in the wrong; even though there have been a number of complaints from mine workers that coal profits are put ahead of their safety. Last year, federal regulators issued evacuation orders for either all or parts of the mine over 60 times! In 2007, it could have been considered a pattern violator by MSHA, but Massey avoided that listing by reducing only the most serious violations.

Once all of the bodies are removed from the mine, MSHA and West Virginia regulators will conduct a joint investigation that could take up to a year. Stricklin explained:

“No stone will be left unturned and we’ll find out the cause of this explosion. Quite frankly, the only good this that can come out of this is to educate everyone, put regulations in place to make sure that this never happens again.”

Many believe the explosion was caused by large amounts of methane gas throughout the mine. Massey Energy has been cited and fined numerous times for methane and other poisonous gases in the mine not being properly ventilated, as well as for allowing combustible dust to build up.

On top of the investigations that will be conducted by MSHA, West Virginia regulators and even a probe by Massey itself, Congress is also planning to hold their own hearings on the matter and President Barack Obama is expecting some answers to this whole disaster by next week. Lawmakers will also be carefully studying Massey’s practices.

You can check out a video on YouTube here about the search coming to an end.