Utah Miners' Families Face Unique Challenges In Mourning Loved Ones

Sunday, September 2nd 2007, 7:19 pm
By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ The Crandall Cranyon mine has become a tomb, leaving the families of the six men trapped inside with no clear way to say goodbye.

With the search for the miners lost in an Aug. 6 collapse suspended, relatives are now faced with finding a way to grieve for and remember Kerry Allred, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Carlos Payan, Brandon Phillips and Manuel Sanchez _ even though the men's bodies were never found.

The experience of having a loved one permanently entombed in a mountain is much like having a family member lost at sea or missing in action in war, said Dale Lund, a professor at the University of Utah who is an expert on bereavement.

``It's pretty hard to come to that closure when you don't see the body and don't have the certainty of what really happened,'' he said. ``In this particular case, you probably have more uncertainty. Even if you believed the person is deceased at this point, it's unclear about how the death experience occurred.''

Rescue efforts at the Crandall Canyon Mine were suspended indefinitely Friday, when officials said conditions were too dangerous to continue searching. Three rescuers working underground were killed in a second collapse Aug. 16, bringing an abrupt halt to tunnel-clearing efforts to reach the miners.

Teams had drilled seven holes deep into the mountain, but found no signs of life. After a robotic camera became stuck in mud in one hole Friday, federal officials said they had run out of options and told families the search was ending.

There are no plans for a memorial at the mine yet. Colin King, a lawyer and spokesman for all six families, said funeral plans and memorial services wouldn't be discussed with the families for at least a week.

``It's too early and nobody's had a chance to think about it up to now,'' King said Saturday, one day after federal officials called off the search.

However, at the urging of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, community members have organized a memorial service on Sept. 9 on the football field at a junior high school in Huntington, about 120 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.

``I think (a) memorial may be a good way for the family and communities who have been touched by this tragedy to move toward closure and healing,'' said Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley.

The families join a unique brotherhood of relatives whose loved ones never came back from work at mines. In 1968, a mine explosion in Farmington, W.Va., killed 78 miners. The bodies of 19 were not recovered.

The Scotia Mine in Kentucky was sealed after a March 1976 accident that killed 26. Rescuers concluded the risk of additional explosions was too high to continue searching. Twelve men killed in the 1959 Knox Mine disaster in Pennsylvania also were never recovered.

Family members who have been through the experience of losing a loved one without ever finding a body say closure is evasive. Laura Abernathy, a Conway, S.C. woman, lost her brother, 38-year-old Johnny Brown, at sea in 2005. She created a memorial on Murrells Inlet, S.C. to remember him.

``You need a place to go _ a place to go at Christmas and Easter and birthdays and to put flowers. If you don't a have cemetery to go to, you've got nothing,'' she said.