As it becomes increasingly more likely that the bodies of six coal miners trapped in a Utah mine since Aug. 6 will remain sealed underground forever, some of their loved ones are reacting with bitter anger that the owners of the mine did not do more.
“Our family members are still under there,” Jackie Taylor told TODAY’s Ann Curry during a live interview Thursday. “They’re underground, and we need that closure in our lives. Please, get our family members out.”
Taylor’s daughter, Lacee Taylor, is the girlfriend of one of the miners, 24-year-old Brandon Phillips, who had taken a job in the mine because of the money he could make just three weeks before the catastrophic collapse.
Lacee, 18, told Curry that Phillips, who has a 5-year-old son by a previous relationship, had a premonition that the 1,900-foot-deep mine was going to collapse.
“He never talked to me about it. but he did tell his younger sister the night before that he knew it was going to collapse,” she said. “He didn’t know exactly when it was going to, but he did tell his sister it was going to.”
The collapse was accompanied by a seismic event, and rescue efforts have been hampered by continuing aftershocks in the Crandall Canyon Mine. On Aug. 16, ten days after the collapse, a rescue tunnel cave-in claimed the lives of three more miners — Dale Black, Brandon Kimber and Gary Jensen.
The trio was trying to reach the trapped men; six other rescuers were injured. After that tragedy, further efforts to dig through the rubble clogging the tunnels have been abandoned.
Despair replaces optimism
Robert Murray, the mine’s co-owner, had initially been optimistic that the six trapped men would be found alive. But as microphones and cameras lowered into holes drilled into areas where they may have taken refuge showed no signs of life, hopes have continued to dim.
Five holes have been drilled into parts of the mine where it was thought the trapped men would take refuge. Microphones and cameras lowered down the shafts have turned up no signs of life. If a sixth hole being drilled now also shows no life, Murray said he will seal the mine and abandon it, leaving the remains of Phillips and the other five men — Luis Alonso Hernandez, Don Erickson, Juan Carlos Payan, Kerry Allred and Manuel Sanchez — entombed.
On Monday, Murray, who had initially vowed not to abandon rescue and recovery efforts, told the families of that decision.
“He more or less came in and told us that our family members were dead,” Jackie Taylor told Curry. “He was very blunt about it. He was very mean. It was awful. It really was awful. And he was yelling at us when he did tell us.
“At the very beginning he did tell us that our family members would come out dead or alive,” she continued. “He said, ‘Well, I’m going back on my word. There’s nothing I can do about that. It’s just going to be this way. We’re just not bringing the family members out.’”
After that contentious and emotional meeting, Murray was asked by federal mining officials to stop briefing the families personally.
“I just don’t understand how somebody could be so heartless,” Lacee said. “Mr. Murray, he pretty much said he wants to leave them down there not knowing if they’re dead or alive, and that just hurt.”