When hope was at hand, miners’ deaths turn into reminder of hell | NevadaAppeal.com

When hope was at hand, miners’ deaths turn into reminder of hell

John DiMambro

I’ve been thinking a bit about the 12 dead miners in Tallmansville, West Virginia. Quite a bit. Can’t seem to shake the thoughts.

Once again, we are reminded of how man’s own creations can turn on us as if to taunt us with the tempestuous boast of who or what is really in charge. Man never is. Not really. Not when it comes to forces of nature or his own man-made methods of destruction or even the environment of his livelihood. In this case, it was an explosion deep in the bowels of Mother Earth – a resentful explosion that unmercifully captured and kept the bodies of 12 innocent men as sacrificial offerings for man’s extraction of one of nature’s resources.

Merciless and unforgiving was this explosion’s shower of rock, and infusion of toxic gases – an explosion that quickly constructed a mausoleum from the earth that it blasted, to make final and undisputed its claim to the unassuming lives it caged in its outburst.

But if the men who were not killed by the initial blast felt the emptiness and timelessness of limbo, the families who awaited their hopeful rescue were about to encounter the inescapable entrapments of hell. It would become forever midnight to the families and friends of those who lay in the contaminated confinements of their temporary graveyard.

At 11:45 p.m., as the news of the miners being found alive traveled quicker than the explosion itself from the mine rescue command center to rescue workers and mine employees, the faith of this gathering on the mount was raised past more than all this. Elation. Jubilation at its highest emotional level. Cries of worship were released into the air.

And then … then, just three hours later, the fall. The fall from all graces, all reason, all sensibility … maybe all faith. They were dead. The 12 men thought to be alive were dead. Only one man – the youngest of a 13-person crew-survived. The original message that seemed enveloped in the glory of a modern-day miracle was a false hope – a prematurely and dreadfully inaccurate message that was more injurious and more punishing than the stranglehold of lost air that forced the 12 men to slip into a black, suffocating final sleep.

What could these men have possibly done in their lives to make this sudden and shoe-string death sentence have reasonable purpose? What crimes could their families have committed to have their hearts poked with emotional daggers, then squeezed by the heavy hand of hope, only to be sickly ripped from their chests in sadistic mockery, like a hopelessly disturbed child amputating a bird’s wing, or removing the two hind legs of a frog to let them live in endless agony?

Is there any comfort in the discomfort of knowing that 12 men, just doing another day’s work, may have met their ends like a drug-induced sleep – like an injection of anesthesia? But it was slow death, and no one was holding their hands, whispering to them to relax, to look up at the shining light, close their eyes and start to count.

Maybe this tragedy will give cause for improved safety in mines in prevention of wall collapses and explosions. But how about major improvements to the air supply of oxygen masks? Forty-five minutes of air – less than an hourglass of sand – is just not enough to breathe life into those who must surrender the final rise of their lungs to eternal rest in a rock-fallen, gas-filled cell.

n John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at jdimambro@nevadaappeal.com.