Team going in after man believed missing in W.Va. mine

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A team is going into an abandoned Boone County coal mine today to search for a missing man, risking their own safety.

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

“I can’t confirm he’s in there,” said Boone County Chief Deputy Chad Barker, reiterating that Blackburn’s location remains unknown.

Members of the West Virginia Mine Rescue Team were being mobilized this morning to search for the man at the abandoned Blackhawk mine near Wharton, Boone County.

“At 9 a.m., our office will lead a joint effort with Blackhawk Mining to enter the mine and start the exploration process underground for the missing man,” stated Eugene White, director of the West Virginia Office of Miner’s Health, Safety and Training.

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, will be 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, are unknown.

“When operations cease and a mine is sealed, conditions can deteriorate very quickly,” White stated in a news release.

“Roof falls, toxic levels of gas, flooding and other dangers may exist. We will take every measure possible to ensure the safety of the rescuers entering the mine.”

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.

“This lady was confused and said her friends were in the abandoned mine,” White said in a MetroNews interview.

“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.

“They arrested him. He said ‘My buddy was with me and I don’t know where he went.’

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.

“It’s really a person that’s missing,” MHST Director White said Wednesday. “We don’t know for sure if he’s underground or if he’s out somewhere in the community running around.”

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