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Miracles do happen - Family members say 12 miners found alive

Family members say 12 miners found alive

TALLMANSVILLE, West Virginia (CNN) -- Twelve miners who have been trapped underground for more than 36 hours are alive, a friend of one of the men told CNN late Tuesday.

Friends and family members erupted in cheers and the town's church bells began ringing as the report became known

"Believe in miracles," said West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, who has expressed optimism throughout the ordeal.

The friend of Terry Helms, one of the missing miners, told CNN's Anderson Cooper a mine official had come out and said, "They've got 12 alive." The man, who did not give his name, said rescue crews were going into the mine.

Initially, 13 miners were trapped underground after an explosion about 6:30 a.m. Monday. The body of one of them was found Tuesday night as the search continued for the others.

Helms' niece, Michelle Mouser, told CNN mine officials and family members believe the body is that of her uncle.

Ben Hatfield, the CEO of International Coal Group, which owns the Sago Mine, said earlier there were signs that the other 12 were alive after the explosion and tried to make it out of the mine shaft.

Earlier, the mood was grim.

Informing families about the discovery of the body was a "nightmare," Hatfield said.

Red Cross volunteer Tamila Swiger said she was in a nearby church when the missing miners' families were told about the body.

"Everyone in the church is just devastated," she said, "breaking down" and suffering panic attacks.

Rachel Day, the daughter of Sago Baptist Church's pastor, said families are "still holding on to that last thread of hope."

Hatfield told reporters late Tuesday that rescue crews found the body in the mine shaft about 11,250 feet from the main entrance.

The vehicle used by the miners was found about 700 feet beyond the body, he said, and rescue workers encountered no substantial debris.

The vehicle was not damaged by the explosion, and the 12 miners appeared to have exited it under their own power, he said.

"That's a very good thing," he said. "That's yet another glimmer of hope, but it raises a lot of questions as to where the employees might have gone."

He said the miners were each equipped with an hour's worth of oxygen, which should have "gotten them to the outside."

"Our hope is that they found an area and secured it, built barricades and were able to survive," he said.

Hatfield said at a press conference shortly after 9 p.m. that rescue crews had gone as far into the mine as they could with their "self-breathing apparatus" and would take a "two to four-hour hiatus while we re-establish ventilation."

The miners were trapped early Monday after an explosion of unknown origin. They're believed to be about 260 feet below the surface at the end of an angled shaft about 2 miles long. (Interactive: Long path to accident site)

There had been no contact with the miners since Monday's blast.

'We believe in miracles'
Earlier, Manchin told reporters late Tuesday that the rescue effort is "still an uphill battle, and still the odds are against us."

However, he said, "We believe in miracles in West Virginia, and we are still hoping for that miracle."

Manchin -- whose uncle was killed in a mining accident in 1968 -- said officials were "totally flabbergasted" that the problem occurred in a part of the mine that was sealed off early last month.

"That is where all of this happened. We don't know why," he said. "There had to be methane gas or buildup of fuel, if you will, back there and something that sparked it."

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Hatfield said the rescue effort would conclude "only when all hope is lost."

Teams were also digging two six-inch holes into the coal mine, after completing an initial hole earlier in the day. They stopped about 20 feet short of reaching the mine to assure the safety of searchers underground, Hatfield said.

An air monitor dropped into the first hole, drilled 260 feet down into the mine, found carbon monoxide levels too high to support life, but officials said the miners could be in another area of the mine.

A robot that rescuers sent into the mine's entry tunnel ran into mud and other debris, slowing its progress. (Watch mine official's update in his own words -- 14:08)

Earlier Tuesday, Hatfield told reporters that "rescue teams are moving forward at an accelerated pace" and were "performing better than the robot was."

"We believe we were being overly conservative early on," he said.

Hatfield also said rescuers on the surface pounded on the drill that bored the first hole into the mine. It was placed in an area where the miners were thought to be at the time of the blast. There was no response.

Views from a camera dropped through the drill hole were inconclusive, Hatfield said.

Darker mood
Near the mine, the mood of hundreds of family members gathered Tuesday morning at the Sago Baptist Church darkened after officials briefed them. (Watch where relatives are waiting and weeping -- 1:05)

Nick Helms, son of trapped miner Terry Helms, was trying to hold his emotions in check as he spoke to CNN late Tuesday.

"I just want to see my dad again," he said. "I'm trying to keep it together as best I can." (On the Scene)

Anna McCloy, wife of missing 27-year-old miner Randy McCloy, said her husband had talked about changing careers.

"He was only working to support me and the kids," she said.

Manchin said some of the drilling equipment being used Tuesday was also used in the July 2002 rescue of nine miners in Somerset, Pennsylvania. Those miners were pulled to safety after being trapped for 77 hours in a flooded mine. (Full story)

In Washington, President Bush said he had spoken with Manchin and assured him that the "federal government will help the folks in West Virginia any way we can."

"May God bless those who are trapped below the earth, and may God bless those who are concerned about those trapped," Bush said at the White House.

Mining deaths on the decline
Manchin said 2005 was the safest year in the state's history of mining.

According to the U.S. Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration, 242 miners died nationally in mining accidents in 1978; in 2003, 55 miners died in mining accidents.

Fourteen miners were killed underground in 2004, the last year for which figures were available. (Watch how mining deaths have fallen -- 1:25)

The International Coal Group was formed in 2004, when business entrepreneur Wilbur Ross Jr. led a group that bought many of the assets of Horizon Natural Resources in a bankruptcy auction.

Last year, ICG bought Anker West Virginia Mining, which previously owned Sago. The company has mining operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Maryland and owned or controlled approximately 707 million tons of coal as of January 1, 2005.

The Sago Mine has a long list of safety violations -- and an injury rate in 2004 three times that of other, similar-sized underground mines, according to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The Sago Mine was cited about 200 times over alleged safety violations in 2005, up from 68 citations the year before, according to the administration. (Watch questions over mine safety -- 1:29)

CNN's Brian Todd contributed to this report.

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