Thursday, January 05, 2006

Tallmansville . . . What Happened?

There are many unanswered questions about what actually happened in Tallmansville; why there was an explosion, why it took the rescue teams so long, why many things happened. Allow me to shed some light on the subject. The coal mine in Tallmansville appeared to be a slope mine, meaning, it sloped downward instead of running horizontally against the hillside. A shaft mine, like the one featured in “October Sky,” means you have to use an elevator to access it. Regardless of whether the mine runs horizontal or slopes, you’re still underground, period. The miners were at least 260 feet underground, that we do know. We know they were found about two miles from the mine entrance, literally at the face of the mine. The “face” being the end of where work is progressing. Seems simple, right? You walk or take a cart to the face of the mine and work. Should be easy to find them, right? No. Not really. The work at Tallmansville was being done in a “room and pillar” method. Coal is extracted and “pillars” are left to support the mine roof. I know, you’re thinking of Parthenon pillars, tall, slender, graceful things. No. “Mine pillars” can be, I’m guessing at best with the information I have, anywhere from 50 to 300 feet across in a “room” anywhere from 500 to 3000 feet squared. (I, of course, have no confirmed dimensions). From my best recollection, there were maybe five to seven “rooms” in the Tallmansville mine. This will lead to a better understanding of the large area the rescuers had to cover. After all, they did not know if they had made it to the face of the mine. They could have been anywhere on the other side of where the other miners escaped from. As for the explosion, I have a decent theory for that. See, next door to the Tallmansville main mine, was a sealed mine. What happens in the “room and pillar” method is that when they reach the end of the property line or whatever, they do what is called “retreat mining.” They mine as much as they can of the pillars until the roof falls and then the mine is sealed. Regardless, deadly gases are still released into that sealed area. There is no ventilation like in an operating mine. The next operative is ground water. Mines are continuously pumped for that reason. It was the failure of a breached mine on the other side which caused the Quecreek problem. The folks who monitor thunderstorms and such stated that there were three lightning strikes within five miles of the mine that morning. One of those strikes was anywhere from four to 10 times stronger than average about 1 and a half miles from the mine. How could that happen? Groundwater. Muddy, dirty water will carry a stronger current than fresh water. Mud is sometimes calf deep in the mines, as evidenced by the fact the robot got stuck. All it took to explode the poisonous, flammable gas in the sealed portion of the mine was one spark. Its possible and the best theory I think anyone has at this point. Plus, the mine had been closed for the holidays. Its my understanding the fire boss went into the operating portion of the mine first and tested it and cleared it. (He was the first one killed by the blast from the sealed portion.) The miners, I believe, although unconfirmed, died of carbon monoxide poisoning (as evidenced in part by their notes to loved ones that they were “just going to sleep” and didn’t suffer.) How did Randall survive? Perhaps because he was younger and less affected by the CO2 for a period of time. Perhaps it was lung capacity, as he didn’t have the length of time in the mines, and lung damage, that the others possibly did. (Black lung leads to an inefficient exchange of CO and O in the lungs). Perhaps when the levels of CO2 rose to dangerous levels he was the only one with oxygen still in his mask. Perhaps the Higher Power simply smiled upon him. I know this. Randall McCloy is one tough guy or he had an angel on his shoulder, or both. We’re praying for you and your family and the families of your co-workers. Blessed be.
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