KEYSTONE, W.Va. — The search for a missing man in an abandoned coal mine in McDowell County has been called off. State and federal mine safety officials say conditions in the long sealed Keystone #1 mine were too dangerous to continue to send rescue teams into the vast underground works in search of a man who State Police say broke into the mine to steal copper.
“The mine rescue personnel were working in as low as eight percent oxygen and were under apparatus while they were searching,” said West Virginia Mine Safety Director Eugene White. “We explored all areas of the mine we could enter safely without putting unnecessary risk on the trained mining personnel.”
Clay Epperly, 30, of Upland, W.Va. has been missing in the mine since late Monday night or early Tuesday morning. State Police say Epperly broke into the mine through a slit dug above one of the seals. Three friends who went in to find him returned unsuccessful and in need of oxygen.
Epperly’s family told WVVA-TV in Bluefield Epperly has been pronounced dead and his body will not be recovered, but instead will be sealed up in the mine.
Crews from Bluestone Resources installed a ventilation fan in hopes of improving the air quality and allow the search to widen. Crews explored what they could of the vast network of aged entries, but failed to find the missing man.
“It’s huge, it’s got a lot of sealed areas. It’s a huge coal mine,” said White. “I’m not sure of the exact distance the teams traveled, it was quite a ways.”
They Keystone #1 mine was originally built in 1916 and was permanently closed and sealed in the 1980’s. Officials say the mine will be sealed up again now that rescuers have exhausted their search without success.