Mine Area Mourning After Missing Bodies Found

They're no longer talking miracles in West Virginia, just mourning after search crews at the Upper Big Branch Coal mine discovered early Saturday the bodies of four missing miners from Monday's devastating explosion.
CBS
Search crews at the Upper Big Branch Coal mine discovered early Saturday the bodies of four missing miners from Monday's devastating explosion.

They started bringing out miners' bodies two at a time in ambulances past the state troopers' salute, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"We did not receive the miracle that we prayed for," West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said to reporters just after midnight, confirming that slim hope had turned to no hope for the four missing miners. "We have accounted for four miners that have been unaccounted for. We have a total of 29 brave miners we are recovering at this time."

The miners died in what appeared to be a methane gas explosion a thousand feet underground and several miles into the sprawling mine.

Three groups of miners were underground at the time of the blast. One group of nine was leaving the site in a vehicle known as a mantrip. Seven of those miners were killed in the blast. Two others were injured. A second group of 18 was further inside. All died. The third group of four was unaccounted for until early Saturday morning.

Rescue teams were able to finally confirm the worst on their fourth trip into the mine after being turned around three times in the face of explosive and noxious gases. While West Virginia held its breath this week awaiting word on the four missing miners, it turns out rescue team members had walked right past three of the missing miners' bodies on Monday but couldn't see them because of so much smoke and dust.

"It's hard to turn a rescue into a recovery with the same group of people and ask them after they've worked hard after they have tried to rescue someone to start carrying bodies," Kevin Stricklin, coal administrator for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, told reporters after the discovery of the missing miners' bodies.

The 29 miners killed makes this the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years, when 38 died in a Kentucky mine.

At Jay Roles's flower shop, it's been grim but busy with four funerals Friday, one Saturday and another scheduled for Sunday.

"We've been swamped, called extra people in, ordered more flowers," said Linda Houck, who works at the flower shop. "Everybody is buying the black bows to go everywhere."

They're no longer talking miracles in West Virginia, just mourning.

"My heart goes out to the families," Johnny Green of Montcoal, W.Va., said. "It's a tragedy, and I hope and pray that nothing like this happens again."

More on the Upper Big Branch Mine Explosion:

Recovery Operations Begin at W.Va. Mine
4 Missing W.Va. Miners Found Dead
W.Va. Miners' Search Nears End, Officials Say
Funerals Begin for Miners
Funerals Begin for Miners Killed in W. Va. Explosion
Rescue Halted as Mine Air Turns "Explosive"
Photos: W. Va. Mine Explosion
Mining Company was Cited on Day of Blast
Miners' Families Cling to "Sliver of Hope"
Mine Worker: "There are no Safe Mines"
Coal Mine CEO Blankenship's Revealing Tweets
W.Va. Coal Mine Blast: The Victims
Recent Fatal U.S. Mine Disasters
Mines not Paying Fines a Familiar Story
Gov.: "No Excuse" for Mine Safety Flaws
Eerie Statement from Miner Killed in Blast

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.