HUNTINGTON, Utah (AP) _ Faced with a backlash over dimming hopes, a coal mine boss broke his self-imposed silence Monday to issue e-mails lowering expectations that six trapped coal miners will ever be recovered, dead or alive.
Bob Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy Corp., issued an initial statement that promised ``we will not be deterred, and we will not leave this mountain until we find our people.''
That was followed a few hours later by another release, saying: ``We will not leave this mountain until we achieve a resolution to this tragedy.''
The once-outspoken Murray has been noticeably absent from meetings with relatives and from news briefings since three rescuers were killed last week in a tunnel collapse.
The once-outspoken Murray had been noticeably absent from meetings with relatives and from news briefings since three rescuers were killed last week in a tunnel collapse. Family members said they were upset by his absence.
But on Monday night, Murray spent more than 45 minutes at a church where some families were gathered. He did not speak to reporters.
Murray's e-mail said the ``efforts in the digging and recovering have left me such that I cannot be a good spokesman to the public media on behalf of our efforts to rescue the original six miners.''
As the rescue effort entered its third week, families pushed for rescuers to bore a hole into the mountain wide enough to accommodate a rescue capsule. Such capsules have been used to save miners in other disasters, but the men in the Crandall Canyon mine were thought to be more than 1,500 feet deeper than in previous rescues.
An attorney for the co-owners of the mine said safety experts believed lowering a capsule would be impossible because the mountain is too unstable.
``It's an unsafe activity,'' Murray Energy Corp. lawyer Chris Van Bever said Monday.
But as rescuers drilled a fifth hole in their search for the men, family members of the men said they felt betrayed and abandoned by the very people who promised never to give up.
``My brother is trapped underground and I'm hearing that they're basically giving up and that's unacceptable,'' said Steve Allred, the brother of Kerry Allred. ``One way or the other we've got to have closure.''
He said he believes his brother is alive. ``I know miners and they're damn tough and they don't give up easy,'' Steve Allred said.
On Sunday, Rob Moore, vice president of Murray Energy Corp., expressed doubt that a tunneling operation would ever resume.
Mine owners and federal officials have insisted for nearly two weeks that the men might be alive. But repeated efforts to signal the men have been met with silence, and air readings from a fourth narrow hole drilled more than 1,500 feet into the mountainside detected insufficient oxygen to support life in that part of the mine. Previous bore holes indicated better air in other cavities but no signs of the miners.
Decisions about drilling a rescue hole and continuing with other rescue activities were being made jointly by federal and company officials in consultation with mining experts, officials said. The capsule had been considered a last, best option since the rescue tunnel collapsed.
Federal and company officials met at least twice with the families on Monday. It was unclear what, if any, results the meetings yielded.
But federal and company officials were apparently either reconsidering their options or at the very least backing off earlier statements questioning whether the men would ever be found.
Bob Ferriter, a former federal mine safety engineer who teaches at the Colorado School of Mines, said the rescue effort has stuck to a predictable script: Hope and optimism that trapped miners will be found alive, followed by a reality check, followed by a bout of recriminations and finger-pointing.
In the first hours and days of a rescue attempt, ``everybody is really excited because there is the possibility of finding them. But as time goes on, the realization sets in that these guys are not alive. The longer it goes, the greater the realization that the chances of finding anyone alive are less and less and less,'' he said.
The decision to call off the rescue effort rests with the mine's owners in consultation with Richard Stickler, head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
``There's no formula, no check-off list. You gather all the information and rely on your experience and listen to the advice of the people you have there. You have to make a hard decision,'' Ferriter said.
But Sonny J. Olsen, an attorney acting as spokesmen for the families, said the families have not reached a ``grieving point'' and had faith that Kerry Allred, a veteran miner, could be keeping the men alive.
``If he survived the initial cave-in, the families are very confident that he himself would have led them to areas where they would have had enough oxygen, and where they could have sustained themselves for weeks,'' Olsen said.
In fact, emblems of hope were everywhere in the surrounding communities where signs continued to go up asking for prayers and blessings for the miners.
But even then, people struggled with their own inner debate over the issue.
``There is no right answer,'' said Sue Dirks, who painted her bookstore windows with ``Pray for all miners.''
``If it was my family in there, I'd want them to get them out. But if it's my family going in there to get them, you know, I don't know.''