CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A three-member rescue team withdrew from an abandoned coal mine today without finding a man who might be inside.

“The rescue team exited the mine at approximately 1:35 p.m. today after they encountered hazards that prevented the team from safely continuing to explore the mine,” according to a news release issued by state officials.

Members of the West Virginia Mine Rescue Team were being mobilized this morning to search for the man at the abandoned Lightfoot No. 1 Blackhawk Mine near Wharton, Boone County.

The missing man was identified as Wes Blackburn of Oceana. In addition to the search, there’s an active warrant for his arrest.

The decision to go in was made late Wednesday after above ground efforts by law enforcement to locate the missing man were exhausted.

The team of three rescuers, comprised of two members from MHST and one from Blackhawk Mining, were risking their own safety. They were equipped with full safety apparatus, including breathing packs.

Officials spent time reviewing maps of the mine, but conditions inside the mine, which closed in 1998 and has been sealed, were unknown.

The situation has been unfolding since early this week.

The issue arose Monday when a woman later identified as Amanda Pennington of Oceana was found parked on mine property. Officials approached to ask why she was there.

She said two men were inside the mine.

The Boone County Sheriff’s Department then got involved. Not long after that, one of the men exited the mine.

That man was identified as Gary Gibson of Oceana.

He was charged with breaking and entering. Pennington was charged with conspiracy.

“They were trying to steal copper,” said Chief Deputy Barker of Boone County.

“It’s really, really a terrible idea. That’s probably the understatement of the year.”

Barker described the two men, with the aid of Pennington, going in and out of the mine, sometimes becoming separated and sometimes having some time gaps.

Because they weren’t always together, because some time passed between their visits and because there are multiple potential exits from the mine, it’s unclear if Blackburn is even in there.

 

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