30 July 2002
Ex-Miner: Map Was Falsified
Says section purposely left out
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS July 30, 2002
Somerset, Pa. - Nine miners were relying on a deliberately falsified map when they mistakenly broke through the wall of a flooded, abandoned mine, trapping themselves underground for 77 hours, a retired miner said yesterday.
The map used by the miners showed the other mine, abandoned in the 1950s, as being 300 feet away, state officials said shortly after the accident.
But Joseph Jashienski, 89, said the now-deceased mine superintendent who made the map left out the section where the miners broke through Wednesday night.
On the last day the mine operated, the Saxman Coal and Coke Co. used improper mining techniques to gather as much coal as it could, Jashienski said. Miners used a machine to carve out a large space in the shape of a baseball diamond.
The superintendent, whom Jashienski declined to name, left that detail out of the map.
"He didn't want anybody to know he made a ball field the last day of work," Jashienski said. "If you put on the map that you made a ball field, the state inspector is going to wonder what you are doing."
Scott Roberts, the head of the mineral resource management division of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that he wasn't aware of Jashienski's claim but that it sounded valid.
"Those type of things happen," Roberts said. "I wouldn't dispute what he said a bit. If he mined in it, he's firsthand information."
Underground maps of Pennsylvania coal country are notoriously sketchy, state officials said within hours of the accident.
Maps will be a key focus of a joint state-federal investigation. "You rely on those maps as being accurate and safe," said Dave Lauriski, assistant secretary for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Regulators are reviewing operations at 34 other mines around the state that are next to abandoned, water-filled mines to determine whether changes are warranted.
Meanwhile, five of the rescued miners held a news conference at Conemaugh Memorial Hospital and thanked the public for supporting them throughout their ordeal.
Some said they were disappointed they hadn't been contacted by the mining company that sent them underground.
"I haven't heard from them," said Blaine Mayhugh, 31. "Haven't got a phone call or a visit from them."
A spokesman for Black Wolf Coal Co., which operates the Quecreek Mine, declined to comment.
The miners, smiling and laughing, recalled their relief when they found a corned beef sandwich and some soda in Dennis Hall's lunch box.
"One guy took a bite and passed it around," said Thomas Foy, 51. "I figured we were good for another couple days."
Some of the miners won't be going back underground.
"I don't know if too many of us will go back to what we did do," said Randy Fogle, 43, a wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek. "It put our families through a lot; it was hard on us and it was I think harder on them."
Foy said he and Mayhugh, his son-in-law, decided that neither would go underground again.
"I've got almost 30 years in, and that's just too much," Foy said. "I've got seven grandkids, and I want to see them guys grow up."
Dr. Russell Dumire, a surgeon at the hospital, where six of the miners were treated, said they all were at risk of post-traumatic stress and suggested they take time off.
When they were rescued Sunday, some of the miners were suffering from hypothermia, trench foot and sensitivity to light, Dumire said. Fogle was the only miner who remained hospitalized yesterday.