Two miners were missing Thursday and rescuers were unable to contact them after a roof collapsed in a large underground coal mine in western Kentucky, company and union officials said.
Rescue crews were in the mine on Thursday morning, said Ricki Gardenhire, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. Mine operators told a news conference that they are holding out hope of finding the miners alive.
Gardenhire said a section of roof gave way some 24,000 feet (7,300 meters) underground in the Webster County Coal Dotiki Mine about 10 p.m. Wednesday.
The missing miners were operating what’s known as a continuous miner, a toothy machine that digs coal for transport to the surface, Gardenhire said.
The rescue teams from the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration “were in the area where the miners are believed to be” by 8 a.m. Thursday, he said.
Tim Miller from the United Mine Workers Union said at least two others escaped after a rock fall in the mine near Providence, about 150 miles west of Louisville.
“Rescue operations were initiated immediately, but efforts to contact the miners have been unsuccessful,” a spokeswoman for the mine told the Evansville Courier & Press.
Calls by The Associated Press to mine operator Alliance Coal Co. were not immediately answered.
Miller said he was called around 6 a.m. (1000 GMT) by a woman who had received a call from the mine. The woman said she was told her husband and her son, who were working in the mine, were safe, but that two other miners were missing.
Miller said the Dotiki Mine employs more than 300 miners.
The mine is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The company’s website says it purchased the mine in 1971 and produces high-sulfur coal there.
The company primarily sells coal to electric utilities. It reported 3,090 full-time employees, $1.1 billion in assets and $1.2 billion in total revenues at the end of 2009.
The United States’ worst coal mine disaster in 40 years happened this month in West Virginia, where 29 men died in an explosion inside a mine owned by Massey Energy Co.
Kentucky has had one miner killed this year in a roof fall at a mine in southeastern Kentucky. The state’s worst mine disaster in recent years occurred four years ago when five miners died in at Darby Mine No. 1 in Harlan County. Two of the miners were killed immediately in the May 20, 2006 blast. Three others died of carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to escape.
Kentucky led the nation in mining deaths last year with six in coal mines and one in a limestone quarry.