Katie Couric's Notebook: Coal Mining

I'm Elaine Quijano. Katie Couric is on assignment.

A coal miner named Nimrod Workman descended deep into the earth each day for 42 years. When he was too sick with black lung to continue, he wrote songs about his life. In one of them, he sings, "I want to live so I'll be ready...on that day when Jesus comes."

Miners always travel under a dark and ominous cloud. There are physical dangers...fires, methane gas, floods...and there are long term dangers like lung disease. Last year, 34 miners were killed on the job.

Yesterday, one blast at the Massey Energy Company mine in West Virginia claimed the lives of at least 25.

One of them, Benny Willingham, was just five weeks away from retirement - planning to take his family on a cruise to celebrate.

The mountains of West Virginia are beautiful and lush like heaven on earth. But, as another song from the region describes, a coal miner is always close to that heaven - but working six feet away from hell - below the ground.

I'm Elaine Quijano, CBS News.