Families Put Faces on Mine Tragedy

Posted October 3, 2007 at 6:12pm

Though their loved ones are gone, the family members of the Crandall Canyon miners who died in an August collapse made sure they weren’t forgotten. As they sat facing the House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday, family members displayed framed photos, putting a face on the lives that were lost.

For Cesar Sanchez, it was a photo of his brother Manuel getting married. For Wendy Black, whose husband, Dale Black, was one of three rescue workers who lost his life trying to save the six men trapped in the Utah mine, it was a photo of her husband, who was an avid hunter and fisherman, in the great outdoors.

Their message was simple — the Crandall Canyon mining accident never should have happened. And once it did, the roller coaster of an aftermath was filled with a series of missteps. Their testimony at the committee’s hearing on “Mine Safety: The Perspectives of the Families at Crandall Canyon” laid out what they saw as a mine on its last leg and a lack of communication and inadequate response to the collapse by the Mining Safety Health Administration.

“This lack of responsibility by the companies and lack of oversight by MSHA, coupled with no protection by the UMWA, has led to my family being devastated,” said Steve Allred, brother of miner Kerry Allred and a fellow miner since 1978.

Fellow miners and union representatives packed the hearing to hear their heartfelt testimony and speak about what they saw as mine owner Robert Murray’s insensitivity toward Hispanics by not providing a translator for two days following the cave-in, as well as what they felt was inadequate response of MSHA in communicating what was going on.

“Mr. Murray told us immediately after the collapse that we could trust God and him and he would stop at nothing to find our loved ones. Every day went by where we were thinking maybe today. But we just continually got let down,” said Michael Marsco, son-in-law of Kerry Allred.

Other family members echoed his concerns.

“It’s hard to have hope and have your heart break every day,” Sheila Phillips said through tears, as she held her grandson Gage.

Committee members expressed support for increasing communications to the families in these situations, making sure the appropriate safety measures have been taken to ensure safe mining, and finding a venue for miners to voice their safety concerns.

Several of the freshmen on the committee noted that this was the third such hearing the committee has held since they were elected. Earlier this year, the committee heard from relatives of victims of mining tragedies in West Virginia and Kentucky. The committee still is awaiting the results of the official investigation into the Crandall Canyon Mine accident.

Last year, Congress passed the MINER Act, which was supposed to increase penalties for major mining violations and work to improve communications underground. But some committee members felt the bill hasn’t gone far enough.

While the families may have resigned themselves that their loved ones are gone, Members of Congress weren’t ready.

“I don’t want to give up on that,” Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) said of finding the victims.