Dave D. Lauriski
Quecreek Anniversary Celebration
July 26, 2003
Good afternoon, everyone!
What a fantastic turnout we have here today.
Bill and Lori Arnold, I must commend you both. You two really know how to throw a party.
And not just any party. This has turned out to be quite a reunion.
(Former) Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker.
Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection David Hess'.
The newly appointed Director of Deep Mine Safety Joe Sbafoni
The former director of MSHA's predecessor agency, Bob Barrett
several of my colleagues from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and of, course, the Quecreek miners.
I'm thrilled to see all these familiar faces, as well as hundreds of new ones. The fact that so many of the people who were here this time last year are back again today really comes as no surprise.
It's quite a testament to the magnitude of the event that occurred exactly one year ago - the dramatic and successful rescue of nine Pennsylvania coal miners trapped for three days 240 feet underground.
My boss, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, asked me to extend her warm wishes as well with these words:
- "Today, America celebrates one of our nation's truly happy endings: the successful rescue of the 9 miners trapped for 77 hours in the Quecreek mine. Since that joyful day, the miners of Quecreek, their families and all the valiant responders who helped bring them to safety have earned a permanent place in our hearts as American heroes. On this very special occasion, I want to commend you once again for your courage, your devotion to others and for showing the world the best of the American spirit."
You graciously turned over your land to us after it was determined where we needed to drill to reach the nine men.
Please join me in applauding the Arnolds for their generosity.
This peaceful, bucolic dairy farm, complete with cows grazing in the field, was transformed from a Norman Rockwell landscape into a bustling, noisy construction site full of monster machinery, drilling equipment, MSHA's mobile command center and seismic monitoring system, and dozens of rescue personnel from across federal, state and local jurisdictions.
I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that the drama that unfolded between July 24 and July 28, 2002, will go down as one of the greatest rescues in our nation's history.
From that first gush of water that spelled trouble for 18 coal miners' to the unforgettable moment 77 hours later when nine cold, hungry, scared and extremely relieved men were transported back to the earth's surface.
It wasn't just the televised segments that riveted millions of people around the world, watching and waiting and waiting some more for a positive outcome.
The memories I carry with me to this day are some of the more poignant moments that occurred behind the scenes, away from the probing eyes of the camera and curious onlookers.
-- Visiting the fire hall that became a second home to family members of the miners, and witnessing up close the raw emotion as they awaited news - any news - about their loved ones.
-- Trying to console by phone the elderly mother of one of the miners'. she was too frail to travel to the fire hall.
-- The frustration and utter despair that enveloped the rescuers when the drill bit slicing through the earth broke off, forcing yet another delay in reaching the trapped miners.
Then there were some of the more memorable public expressions:
-- The restaurant marquees around town that displayed sentiments of hope, support and - eventually - thanksgiving and gratitude to God for the safe rescue of nine men.
-- The jubilant sound of diesel horns blasting as a convoy of equipment-laden trucks departed the scene the morning after the late-night rescue.
I have spent virtually all of my life and career associated with the mining industry, and I never before experienced the range of emotion that came with that event.
I was intensely concerned about the welfare of the trapped miners.
I was prayerful that we could reach them and confident that we would.
I was elated when we heard the miners' voices and knew they were safe.
I was proud of the expertise of MSHA's safety and health professionals and the teamwork they exhibited.
I was honored that we were part of a team that included the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, local governments, the mine operator, miners and the many volunteers who gave their time and effort.
Every single person on site contributed to the successful rescue of the nine miners.
That goes for the mining companies around the country who offered to send equipment from their sites hundreds of miles away;
-- members of the Enlow Fork mine rescue team from West Finley, Pennsylvania;
-- Navy personnel who transported decompression chambers to the rescue site;
-- volunteers with the Salvation Army and Red Cross who kept us well-fed during those long days and nights;
-- the local fire department, law enforcement officials and medical personnel, including the SMART team;
-- and the priests and ministers from neighboring churches who offered support and spiritual guidance.
In every sense of the word, it was truly a team effort.
And I will never be able to express the emotion I felt when the ninth miner arrived safely at the surface.
Helping carry the stretcher that held Mark Popernack, the last miner out, was especially meaningful to me. Hours earlier, I'd met Mark's father, who asked me to bring his son home.
Thank God we didn't let Mr. Popernack down, along with the dozens of relatives who held a constant vigil.
As all of us worked through the days and nights in the drizzling rain, we never lost hope.
I saw so many positives springboard off of the rescue. First and foremost, I think people the world over have developed a new and well-deserved respect for the men and women who toil in our nation's mines.
They understand a little better that when they turn on their computer, or their television, or the microwave, that coal supplies the power and electricity that make our lives so much easier.
These conveniences come at a price. The mining industry, while safer today than ever before, will always have its share of hazards.
Miners subject themselves to conditions that few of us can begin to understand.
Thanks to improved technology, better training and stronger enforcement, the chances for injury and illness in the 21st century have been greatly reduced.
In spite of these improvements, we know better than to become complacent.
We know that we cannot afford to lessen our vigilance to keep miners safe and healthy and return them to their families and loved ones.
We want to continue to help make safety a value throughout the mining industry so every miner can return home safe at the end of every shift.
In fact, we've declared Monday, July 28th, as the first ever "National Coal Mine Safety Awareness Day," and will launch an ambitious safety initiative.
For the next two weeks, federal mine safety and health specialists - including inspectors, supervisors, managers, technical specialists, and educational field personnel -- will visit as many mines and miners throughout the country as possible to discuss safety awareness.
It's another important tool MSHA will use to protect our nation's miners. The inundation at Quecreek taught us many valuable lessons about mine floods and the accuracy of mine maps.
Shortly after the rescue, MSHA held a technical symposium that identified some promising new technologies which may help in the detection of mine voids.
At Senator Arlen Specter's request, Congress appropriated $10 million toward the digitization of mine maps and for other technological projects.
Not only did Quecreek provide the mining industry with some valuable lessons.
Against the backdrop of the terror brought on by events of September 11, 2001, and the resulting nationwide alerts, the incident also provided this nation with an exhilarating experience of success at a time when America greatly needed a story with a happy ending.
It gave us all something to be intensely proud of.
American miners became instant celebrities.
The men and women involved in the painstaking rescue operation demonstrated the good that comes from training, determination, courage and team work.
President Bush, during a celebration held in Green Tree one week after the rescue, acknowledged these actions as representing the best of our country - the spirit of America, the great strength of our nation.
I couldn't agree with him more.
Even a yellow cylindrical compartment that served as the nine miners' lifeline to the earth's surface became something of a hero.
MSHA's rescue capsule, used countless times over the last 30 years in training exercises -- but never before during an actual mine emergency -- has been one of the biggest draws at mining, safety and community events around the country.
It's only the second of its kind in the United States.
The first was used at the Sunshine silver mine in Kellogg, Idaho in 1972 to rescue two miners who had been trapped for an unbelievable seven days underground.
MSHA modeled our own capsule after the one used so successfully at Sunshine.
Everyone wants to touch it, crawl inside it, and be photographed next to what became the miners' steel ticket to freedom.
In fact, today's ceremony wouldn't be complete without the participation of the rescue capsule. For those of you who haven't seen it close up, I invite you to do so.
It will forever represent a defining moment in the history of mining and mine rescue.
In my 30-plus years of mining, I've experienced a number of defining moments, but certainly none as sweet as Quecreek.
As important as the outcome was, what comes after is just as significant.
For MSHA's part, it's making sure this type of accident never occurs again.
It's learning from our mistakes.
It's capitalizing on all we did that was right and effective.
No one - no matter how jaded or cynical - came away from that event unchanged.
Some of us may have reaffirmed our faith in a higher power.
How ever you were touched by the Quecreek rescue, I hope you will always remember those feelings.
Cherish them and revel in them especially at times when the cynicism starts to creep back, or your faith in God or other people starts to wane.
Let's be mindful that, sometimes, miracles really do happen.
Thank you for your kind attention; God bless you all and God Bless America.