CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State mine safety officials are considering going into an abandoned coal mine near Wharton, Boone County, to search for a man who reportedly entered it with another man.
“One gentleman did come out of the mine,” said Eugene White, director of the state Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training. “They arrested him. He said ‘My buddy was with me and I don’t know where he went.’
“It’s really a person that’s missing. We don’t know for sure if he’s underground or if he’s out somewhere in the community running around.”
The former Blackhawk mine closed in 1998 and had been sealed, White said.
The Miners’ Health Safety and Training agency doesn’t have jurisdiction, but it does have expertise.
What officials must weigh, White said, is whether searching for the missing man is worth the risks that potential rescuers would face.
“This mine has been sealed for quite a while,” he said. “You’ve got potential roof falls. You have potential dangerous gas levels. Water. You don’t know what you’re running into with a mine that’s been sealed.
“We’re evaluating now to see what my occur. We’re hoping that he sometime today surfaces and we don’t have to think of sending someone in an abandoned mine.”
The issue arose Monday when a woman parked on mine property, White said. Officials approached to ask why she was there.
“This lady was confused and said her friends were in the abandoned mine,” White said.
“The company, Blackhawk mining, found where the mine seal had been breached and there was evidence of people going in it.”
The Boone County Sheriff’s Department then got involved. Not long after that, one of the men exited the mine.
Officials, including those from the mine safety agency, gathered at the mine on Tuesday night to assess the situation. They intended to gather again in today’s daylight.
White wasn’t certain yet about the depth of the mine or its layout.
“That’s one of the things today, we’ll be getting some maps and looking at them and determining where everything is,” he said.
Then officials will have to determine whether to go in.
“There is a lot of potential danger to our employees if we elect to go in the mine. The people you’re looking for you don’t know what kind of state of mind they’re in or the danger they may present to us.
“We understand the humane thing is, it is a human life. That’s where we are thinking about making the determination of what we want to do as an agency.”