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Persistent Rescuers Save Pennsylvania Miners

On Wednesday, July 24, 2002, nine Pennsylvania miners were trapped 240 feet underground in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. For three days Americans followed the rescue efforts on CNN hoping and praying for a miracle.

Blaine Mayhugh, one of the nine, recalls his feelings when 50 million gallons of water flooded the mine shaft in which they were working. "We tried to outrun it, but it was too fast. I thought, This is it."

Within 24 hours of the disaster, the rescuers successfully lowered an air pipe to where they believed the miners were. The miners signaled they were still alive by banging on the pipe. Filled with hope, the rescuers decided to drill a shaft to reach the men. They waited 24 hours for the heavy-duty drill to be transported from West Virginia.

But hope waned when further signals from the trapped miners stopped. Then an unexpected obstacle stymied the rescuers on Friday: only a third of the way into the solid granite, a 1,500-pound drill bit broke. For 18 hours the drillers worked to fish out the broken pieces of the drill in order to pick up where they left off. The delay was a setback, but the rescuers continued to work non-stop, hoping there was sufficient oxygen for the miners to breathe.

Mayhugh admitted he and his co-workers fought despair when the encouraging sound of drilling ceased a few hours after it began. At that time, he asked for a pen to write a final word to his family on a scrap of cardboard. "Tell them I loved them," the strapping miner said, fighting back tears as he recalled his fear that the rescuers had given up.

But the rescuer workers had not given up. Precious lives were in jeopardy. Eventually they reached the trapped miners. As the miners were transported to ground level in a makeshift capsule, each of the nine heard the thundering applause of colleagues, reporters, and bystanders cheering their rescue.

Like these trapped miners, many people depend on our persistence.

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