ICG President Ben Hatfield: ‘Welcome to the worst day of my life’
What was proclaimed across America as a miracle in Tallmansville, W.Va., with the announcement of 12 trapped miners found alive turned to shock and disgust with new information indicating that 12 miners had actually died, with just one man surviving the 41-hour ordeal.
“Everybody is stunned and sickened to their stomach. We feel like we’ve been lied to,” one relative at the scene, Sam Lance, told CNN. “I thought I was going to pass out. This is probably the most horrible thing that has happened to me in my lifetime.”
“How could this be broadcast all over the country?” asked another. “To rip someone’s heart out. It’s awful.”
“The initial report from the rescue team to the command center indicated multiple survivors,” Ben Hatfield, president International Coal Group, said during a news conference to explain the horrific error. “That information spread like wildfire, because it had come from the command center. It quickly got out of control.”
“We were devastated,” Hatfield added. “It’s beyond belief. Welcome to the worst day of my life.”
Families at the Sago Baptist Church went from supreme joy to outrage when they learned the dozen survivors were whittled down to just one man alive.
John Groves, whose brother Jerry Groves was among those trapped, said chaos and fighting broke out inside the church.
The sole survivor is identified as Randal McCloy, Jr., 27, who was listed in critical condition at St. Joseph’s Hospital before being tansported to a Level-One trauma center in Morgantown, W.Va.
“We have one miracle. We’re very happy about that miracle,” said Gov. Joe Manchin. “We had prayed for 13 miracles. … This has been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved.”
The 13 miners had been trapped 260 feet below ground for some 41 hours since the Monday morning explosion, and euphoria broke out when it was originally thought that 12 of the 13 miners had been found alive.
Church bells rang from atop the Sago Baptist Church where friends and relatives had gathered, punctuated by jubilant shouts, songs and screams of “They’re alive!”
The sheer jubilation was dampened only by the known death of one miner, identified as 50-year-old Terry Helms, the miner crew’s “fire boss.”
But some 20 minutes after the cries of miracle were going out, officials became aware the rescue team was stating that 12 explosion victims had been discovered dead, not alive.
“Why in God’s name did they wait three hours to tell family members?” asked CNN reporter Anderson Cooper. “I’m at a complete loss for words.”