In a rescue that transfixed the nation, all nine miners were pulled safely from the Quecreek Mine in rural western Pennsylvania after water from an abandoned mine flooded the shaft where they were working.
A desperate rescue operation with tons of heavy equipment and 18 medical helicopters finally paid off when rescuers reached the miners Sunday morning and pulled them up a narrow shaft, one by one, in a yellow cylindrical capsule.
As more than 150 rescue workers and neighbors above ground struggled to reach them, the miners fought to keep their heads above the cold water, huddled together for warmth, and hoped.
The nation exhaled a collective sigh of relief and joy as Mark Popernack, the last of nine trapped coal miners, was brought up alive from 240 feet beneath the ground. Americans had been holding their breath for three long days, anxious to hear whether Somerset would be faced with another tragedy this year. Last Saturday morning, many across the country were tired, having stayed up long after midnight to watch the completion of the miners' rescue. None were as weary or as joyful, however, as the nine men, drawn up from their flooded cave, who fell into their families' waiting arms.
One Pittsburgh reporter dubbed last week's trial "the miracle in the mine." Surely, there was an element of faith involved in bringing those nine brave men, their families and friends, through such a frightfully uncertain experience. Faith certainly helps to bring about miracles, and it comforts us while we wait for them. Part of the miracle of July 27th was the incredible spirit of community, comradery, and support that grew out of a tragic situation to sustain those suffering through it. The people of Somerset County joined together to design and accomplish a brilliant recovery, to console and encourage each other, to perform their best in this life-saving effort. In doing so, they brought home the respect of the nine men they saved, of their Commonwealth, and of their country.
Local, state, and federal officials were on hand at the rescue scene around the clock and television crews transmitted all 77 hours of the events. The courage they all witnessed, standing on that site, watching drill machinery reach into the earth, was mirrored deep beneath the ground where the miners waited in the dark. These men battled the elements - the rock enclosing them, rushing water, 55-degree temperatures. Their spirit and determination shone through the pitch blackness, bonding them together, and kindling their hope of survival. They clung to each other to stay warm and never forgot a simple but expressive mantra, "nine for nine." These men are the picture of Pennsylvania: resourceful, united, focused on family and duty. Facing their fears, they found a way to write letters to their loved ones and seal them in a bucket for safe-keeping. Some of the miners will even go back to their work in the mine shafts, perhaps not unfazed by their entrapment, but unwavering in their resolve nonetheless.
It has been a difficult year for southwestern Pennsylvania - the crash of Flight 93 and now the Quecreek Mine incident, taking place within ten miles of each other. But Pennsylvanians there have refused to be discouraged, rising to meet the challenge and heartbreak dealt to them. Somerset is a resilient community and one that will not soon change, unless, perhaps, for the better through its collective spirit. Regardless of the threat of terrorism and unfortunate accidents, or maybe despite them, the people here will unite again if they must. Tested by these events, they have proven a great strength through cooperation and compassion.
"They saved us," miner John Unger told reporters at Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown. "We did our job, and they really did their job."
He also thanked the country for its support.
"All the people in America that prayed for us ... that's the only reason we're here," said Unger, flanked by four of the nine other rescued miners.
President Bush summed up the feelings of people around the world in his remarks to the coal miners, their families and the community that pulled together and made the miracle possible.
"As I said, we're here to celebrate the spirit of America, and it's represented by a lot of folks here, a lot of people involved with what took place here in Pennsylvania and Somerset. First, the spirit is best represented by the first responders, the people who were at the site. You know, people who heard the call that one of my neighbors is in trouble -- a fellow American is in need. We've got nine people trapped below the earth who might lose their life, and your fellow Americans came to your rescue. They came to work hour after hour, many of them volunteers. None asked, where am I going to get my next paycheck from. All asked, what can I do? What can I do as an American to help a neighbor in need.
And so to the first responders here, I want to thank you for your spirit. For those who volunteered hour after hour to save a fellow citizen -- somebody you didn't even know, but were willing to sacrifice on behalf of that citizen, thank you from grateful nation. Thanks for the example you set. Thanks for showing our fellow citizens that by serving something greater than yourself is an important part of being an American.
I truly believe the effort put in will serve as an example for others in a time of crisis. The spirit of America, the best of America was represented by those who spent long hours worrying about the lives of their fellow citizens."
Story compiled from various sources including: CNN, WPIX-TV, The White House and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.
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