TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. — The lone survivor of a coal mine explosion that killed 12 other miners was moved Thursday to a Pittsburgh hospital to undergo oxygen treatment, hospital officials said.
Randal McCloy Jr. was in a coma and appeared to have suffered brain damage, according to a doctor. He arrived at Allegheny General Hospital after being taken by ambulance from West Virginia University’s Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., said Tom Chakurda, a spokesman at Allegheny.
Weather conditions did not allow him to be flown to Pittsburgh, Chakurda said.
McCloy was “in stable condition but remains critically ill as a result of the carbon monoxide poisoning that he suffered,” said Dr. Richard Shannon, who leads the team of doctors treating the miner.
McCloy was struggling with the effects of oxygen deprivation to his vital organs, including his brain. He will receive two 90-minute treatments a day for at least three days to remove any remaining amount of carbon monoxide from his body and “hopefully limit any injury and hasten his recovery,” Shannon said.
‘There's no panic,’ doctor says
“We are doing this because we want to leave no stone unturned,” he said, adding that McCloy had been sedated and was undergoing his first treatment. He said it was too early for a prognosis.
“There’s no panic,” Shannon said. “There is certainly a sense of concern. He’s in critical condition.”
Dr. John Prescott, at the WVU hospital, said McCloy’s coma was not medically induced and that drugs initially used to sedate him were wearing off, but “he is not waking up as we had hoped he would do.”
“We do believe there has been some injury at this point to the brain,” Prescott said.
With the consent of McCloy’s family, doctors decided to transfer him to Pittsburgh for hyperbaric oxygen treatment. The treatment helps get oxygen to the body’s tissues, including the brain, and can help increase blood cells to fight infections or promote healing of injuries.
Doctors performed a brain-function test Thursday morning, but it was too early to tell how well McCloy’s brain will recover, Prescott said.
Kidney and liver problems
McCloy’s collapsed lung was reinflated and functioning, but he remained on a respirator, Prescott said. He also had kidney problems, likely from staying in one position for too long, and liver troubles from lack of fluids.
Relatives called McCloy a quiet family man who would likely cringe at his status as the “miracle miner.” They said he did not like working in the mines but stuck it out for three years because it enabled him to provide for his wife and two children, 4-year-old Randal III and 1-year-old Isabel.
“I know he was fighting to stay alive for his family because his family was his No. 1 priority,” said Rick McGee, McCloy’s brother-in-law and a fellow miner who lives next door to McCloy in this small town about 35 miles southeast of Morgantown.
He was the youngest of the 13 miners. Most of the others were in their 50s, and doctors said his youth and health may have helped him.
“When most people are drinking pop, he’s drinking milk and juice. He’s in good shape. That had to have helped him,” said McGee, who has known McCloy for 12 years and coached two of his brothers in baseball.
Survivor described as ‘a typical guy’
McGee says McCloy liked to pass the time walking in the woods looking for deer.
“He is a typical guy — liked hunting, fishing, sports, fast cars,” McGee said.
Ben Hatfield, president and CEO of International Coal Group, which owns the mine, guessed that McCloy may have been deeper in a barricaded area that he and 11 other miners created after the explosion early Monday, and therefore farther from toxic gases. The 13th miner died in another location.
Anna McCloy, looking pale and exhausted, attended a news conference at the hospital Wednesday but did not answer questions.
“Just ask everybody to keep on praying,” she said.
Communication part of inquiry
Meanwhile, officials are planning a probe into the coal mining accident, the nation’s deadliest in more than four years, which began with an explosion 260 feet underground early Monday that federal investigators have yet to explain. But coal mine explosions are typically caused by buildups of naturally occurring methane gas or highly combustible coal dust in the air.
David Dye, who heads the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said the investigation will look at “how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners’ conditions.”
Just before midnight Tuesday, families received word that 12 miners were alive. Bells at the church pealed, and politicians proclaimed the rescue a miracle before the truth emerged three hours later. At that point, the families’ joy turned instantly to fury, with one man lunging at coal company officials.
Apology from officials
Hatfield said that the Ashland, Ky.-based company did the best it could under extreme stress and exhaustion, and that officials “sincerely regret” the families were left to believe for so long that their loved ones were alive.
“In the process of being cautious, we allowed the jubilation to go on longer than it should have,” a choked-up Hatfield said.
He said the initial mistake resulted from a miscommunication among the rescue crews. Another ICG executive, Vice President Gene Kitts, suggested the misunderstanding resulted because the rescuers who reached the victims were wearing full-face oxygen masks and used radios to report their findings to their base.
One of the dead was discovered several hundred feet from where the others had barricaded themselves in the maze-like mine. Hatfield said that miner, found near a belt used to move coal to the surface, was apparently killed by the force of the blast.
Rescuers heard moans
ICG’s Kitts said the rescuers realized McCloy was alive when they heard his moans.
Mine company officials would not say exactly how the 12 miners died or how long they survived, citing privacy concerns.
A fund to provide financial support to the miners’ families has been established by ICG with an initial contribution of $2 million, company Chairman Wilbur L. Ross announced Wednesday.
The explosion was West Virginia’s deadliest coal mining accident since 1968, when 78 men died in an explosion at a mine in Marion County, an hour’s drive from here. That disaster prompted Congress to pass the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.
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