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Morgantown native knows the tension of a deep mine rescue

Pressure has mounted on rescue crews at a Mexican coal mine to make bold moves to save 10 trapped miners.

The tension surrounding the scenario is a familiar one for West Virginians who have a deep connection to the coal industry and the risks it holds.

Bill Maloney, a former drilling company owner from Morgantown, knows the pressure well. He was part of an effort in 2010 that freed 33 Chilean miners who were trapped more than 2,000 feet below ground for 69 days.

Maloney isn’t familiar with all off the circumstances in the latest accident in Mexico, but knows there are situations that are universal to any mining emergency.

“I sure hope there’s someone like we had in Chile who was in charge and had all of the maps and you could ask him things,” Maloney said during an appearance on MetroNews Talkline. “You’ve got to communicate and the language barrier is difficult.”

The Mexican miners cut into a sealed mine works, which were flooded, causing water to inundate their mine. They retreated and found a pocket of air and are hoping for rescue soon.

To Maloney the incident sounded a lot like the Que Creek Mine accident in Somerset County, Pa., where nine miners were trapped in a flooded mine. They were ultimately rescued when drillers were able to get a rescue capsule to them.

Maloney said what seems simple, can be tricky.

“Hopefully, they’re in an air pocket. You can drill a hole and get them out, but before that you’ve got to get all the water out so it doesn’t flush back on the guys,” he said.

Maloney said there is plenty to consider and a lot of hydraulics that have to be studied to know the correct move.

Maloney built the capsule that pulled the miners to safety in Chile and suspects there will be a similar contraption on hand in Mexico if they can get to those miners.

“If it’s a situation where you can get a hole in the ground, it’s only 200 feet. That shouldn’t take long. As for rescue capsules, we ended up building some and that thing is sitting there if somebody needs it. MSHA has some and I’m sure the Mexican mining authorities have their own technology there on the ground,” he said.

The miners were trapped Aug. 3 in a mine in Mexico’s Coahuila state.