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Bush: 'Spirit of America at Work' as Miners Fought for Survival - 2002-07-30

All across America, people, including President Bush, are talking about the "miracle of the miners." Nine coal miners were rescued Sunday in the state of Pennsylvania after being trapped for days in a flooded mine shaft. The miners say they survived on prayer and teamwork.

The unfolding drama in a small Pennsylvania coal town had a nation holding its breath.

Millions followed the story on television, tuning in day after day to watch rescue workers drill through meters of rock in an effort to reach the miners. There were setbacks but no one on the scene, not the rescuers, not the families, ever lost hope.

President Bush said the great spirit of America was at work as the miners fought for survival. "People prayed for their deliverance," he said. "Americans spent hours trying to figure out how best to save those miners, came up with a plan, and successfully got each and every one of them out."

The miners' ordeal began last Wednesday when they accidentally broke into an abandoned, water-filled mine shaft. They were trapped 73 meters underground in near total darkness and spent most of the time standing in cold water while rescue teams worked against the clock.

The rescuers started by drilling a hole to pump warm air to the miners, then moved on to create a space large enough to hold the nine men as one by one they were pulled from the shaft.

The miners said once they felt the air and heard the rescuers outside they had a feeling they would be safe, even though the drilling dragged on and on and even stopped for 18 hours when a drill broke.

At their first press conference following their rescue early Sunday, five of the miners said the real heroes were the men and women who brought them to the surface.

John Unger said they went before reporters to express their thanks. He said, "I came today to thank everybody who was out there that helped us and prayed for us and dug in for us not for any story, no fame, no glory. Just to thank all these people personally from the bottom of my heart."

They said they did a lot of talking and praying during the long hours in the mine. The only food they had was one sandwich, split nine ways and a few bottles of soda found floating in the water.

But Blaine Mayhugh said in the end, the key to their survival was teamwork. Mr. Mayhugh said, "Someone would fall down and we would pick him up and just always stay together and work as a team."

Some of the miners say they will be returning to work at the Quecreek mine. Others, like Blaine Mayhugh, saidthey have no intention of ever going back.

But whatever they do, their lives will never be the same.

Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweicker was at the mine throughout the rescue operation. Governor Schweicker said, "They have taught us, they have taught a country, they have taught a world about grit and determination and the power of teamwork and prayers because that is what got these gentlemen through 77 hours of hell."

The mine disaster occurred about 16 kilometers from the spot where the fourth plane hijacked on September 11 crashed into the ground. Local residents rushed to the scene on that day only to learn there was no one to save. This time, they are savoring both a rescue and a miracle.