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Rescue tunnel collapse hits Utah mineworkers rescue

Attempts to reach six men trapped in a coal mine cave-in inUtahwere being scaled down this week after the deaths of three members of the rescue team last Thursday.

The men died after the tunnel they were digging towards those trapped collapsed. TheUtahStateDivision of Oil, Gas & Mining said that despite pleas from the men’s families, plans to send a manned capsule down to them have now been scrapped.

A spokesman said that the Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA), which is co-ordinating the rescue with mine owner Murray Energy Corporation, has decided that using the capsule would be too risky.

The site has seen numerous further collapses since the initial cave-in on 6 August. “The MSHA feels it is an unprecedented event which makes it very difficult to come up with a plan,” said the Utah State Division of Oil & Gas spokesman.

“It is such a catastrophic collapse that even after the first event, pillars in the mine have continued to fall as the rescue attempt goes on.”

He said the MSHA decided health and safety factors made it too risky to get even one man with sufficient breathing apparatus in the capsule down to the collapse 457m underground.

Rescuers are instead drilling a fifth borehole in an attempt to locate the trapped miners, but the spokesman said hopes of finding the men alive were fading because samples had shown the air to be “not good”.

The fifth borehole is 219mm in diameter and, as with the previous four holes, will be big enough to lower camera and microphone equipment being used to find the trapped men.

Each of the boreholes range between 518m and 549m in depth.

The cause of the accident has yet to be determined, but the MSHA said a seismic or ground failure event was registered near the mine the day before the cave-in.

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