Friday, August 17, 2007

Lost Miners: Rescuers in Danger

As the search for 6 trapped miners continues in Utah, 3 rescue workers were killed and 6 others injured last night in what news reports say was a cave-in. Here's a story.

It's interesting -- and sad -- to think about: You've got a rescue operation that, in its 10th or 11th day, is looking more like a recovery operation, and then rescue workers start getting killed in the process.

What do you do? I don't think anyone would just want to assume that the original 6 miners are dead and stop looking, but at the same time should you keep putting additional people in harm's way to find them, especially when enough time has passed that the chances of the original guys still being alive are vastly lower?

Or, does the fact that so much time has passed make it even more important to continue to try and find them?

It's a crazy mixture of hope and empathy ... we want to hope they're still alive, so we look for them, and we continue to look for them even as time passes because we think how awful we would feel to not have been killed by the original collapse and instead spend day after day just waiting to die.

I'm sure there are some people that would just have assumed them dead after the initial collapse, called it a tragedy and then worked toward recovering the bodies in a slow, safe manner.

It's a tough call, one I'm glad I don't have to make - I don't know how many additional lives I would risk for something so uncertain. I guess it depends on the connection to the trapped miners -- if I knew them personally then maybe I would throw caution to the wind and make every effort to get to them, regardless of the risk.

But for someone who has to look at it from a position of responsibility, it must be a tough spot to be in because of society's need for a blame game. Mining is dangerous, and there always have been casualties. But I don't think people today can be satisfied with chalking something up to natural chance, they need to be able to pin the blame on someone, so they can feel like there is a way these things can be prevented. Pat Buchanan has a column that takes a look at this.

So, for that person, it's a question of how many bodies he wants to be responsible for.

The only starting point I can think of right now would be to increase the equipment miners have with them -- more food, water, lights, GPS and communication units -- to at least give them a better chance should they become trapped.

But I think the only way to prevent this kind of thing from happening would be to stop mining, and pursue other forms of energy.

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