GPS Technology locates trapped miner's

Gun Docc

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The man behind the miracle
July 29, 2002 Posted: 1:31 PM EDT
 
 
By Jeff Goodell
Special to CNN.com

SOMERSET, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Just hours after the rescue, the drill site already looks like Disneyland. Tourists jam the road beside the place, snapping pictures, posing with the cranes in the background.

State troopers guarding the site are bombarded with questions. Truck drivers hauling out the drill bits and generators wave like Super Bowl champions. Even forklift operators are treated like holy men.

This is, after all, the site of a bona fide miracle.

Above the crowd, in the shadow of one of the barns near the site, the man who is as responsible for that miracle as anyone leans against his red Chevy Blazer. Bob Long, 37, is an engineer technician for Civil Mining Environmental Engineering Inc. in Somerset. He's a modest guy, dressed in shorts and Nike sandals, with three gold chains around his neck.

In the back of his Blazer is about $60,000 worth of high-tech surveying equipment that Long used in the early hours of the rescue operation to decide exactly where to drill the first hole that located the miners. It was a crucial decision -- and it may well have been the turning point of the entire rescue operation.

"If we would have been wrong," Long says, "this might have been a recovery operation, not a rescue."

Long had just gone to bed last Wednesday night at his home in nearby Boswell, Pennsylvania, when he got a call from his boss, Sean Isgan, who told him about the accident.

"We need you and your GPS stuff down there right now," Isgan told him.

When Long arrived at the scene, it was chaos. The rescue team quickly decided that the first step would be to drill an exploratory hole, both to try locating the miners and to begin blowing compressed air into the tunnel to create an air bubble to keep the flooding waters at bay.

"The key question was, 'Where exactly were these guys?'" Long recalls. "And we were going to get them out by drilling a rescue shaft, where exactly do we drill it?'"

The miners who had escaped had told mine operators the general vicinity of their operations, but where the men had gone to escape the flooding waters was unknowable.

Even if they knew where they were, locating the spot from above was extraordinarily difficult. An error of a few feet either way or they might miss the tunnel entirely.

Drilling even a 6-inch hole 300 feet down took hours, and they did not have the luxury of poking around until they found the men.

First hole had to be right
If they wanted to get these men out alive, the first hole had to be right.

The first step was to consult mine maps. Working with Joe Sbaffoni of the state Department of Environmental Protection and other mine rescue experts, they noted the general slope of the mine, figured out the high ground the workers might retreat to, and picked a spot on the map to drill.

It was up to Long, with help from Isgan, to translate the spot on the map to a spot on the ground. To add even more risk to the operation, a closer look at the mining map revealed that an underground gas line ran very close to drilling spot.

If that map was off, or Long made a mistake in his calculations, there could be some real fireworks when the drill bit hit the gas pipe.

Working frantically, Long set up his GPS surveying equipment. Global positioning satellite systems are a high-tech device used in everything from minivans to smart bombs. They work by triangulating radio signals between a low-orbit satellite, a fixed point, a third (and often moving) point.

The better the GPS system, the more accurate it is, and Long's equipment is top-of-the line -- essentially the same one used by the U.S. military.

"It's accurate within less than a centimeter," Long said.

He set up some general coordinates in the field nearby and took some readings to get oriented. Then he entered the mine map coordinates into his laptop and translated them to his GPS system.

He then grabbed a small hand-held device called a "rover" and began walking in the general direction of the spot they had picked out.

The satellite beamed down information to the transmitter he had set up on a tripod, which relayed the signal to the rover, eventually guiding him to a spot very close to an access road near the highway.

At about 1:15 a.m. Thursday -- not much more than an hour after he had arrived -- Long held his breath and drove a stake into the ground: that was the spot they would drill.

Anxious moments
As the rig positioned itself over the spot, Long was nearly unwound by anxiety.

"What if we'd have been off by three feet, and hit one of the mine pillars? We'd have had no idea it was a pillar, or if we'd missed the tunnel by an inch or a mile.

"Basically, we'd have had to just throw all the maps into the trash and just drill 10 feet this way, 10 feet that way, until we found the tunnel. Who knows how long it might have taken?"

As the drill bit began chewing into the earth, Long left to do some more surveying in another area.

About an hour and a half later, he returned, just in time to hear that the drill bit had broken through to the tunnel.

He was thrilled, but not as thrilled as he was about five minutes later, when he heard nine distinct metallic clangs -- the sound of the trapped men pounding on the drill bit with their mining hammers.

"It was the sweetest sound I've ever heard," Long said, smiling broadly.

Jeff Goodell is the author of "Sunnyvale: The Rise and Fall of a Silicon Valley Family." He is working on a book about coal and energy in the United States.
 



Tinhorn

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Thanx for that article Gun Docc,

They drilled 400' in 1.5 hrs!   wow!

How come they couldn't shoot down some food and other supplies thru the 6" hole like the bank does with their air tubes at teh drive thru?  Looks like they could even blow a can on a string to them with messages and then haul it back up with their messages?

Tinhorn
 

ToddP

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Tinhorn,  
Where did you get the 400' in 1.5 hrs?  

I wouldn't want to be put in that situation.  My nerves would have been shot the whole time worrying that I put that stake in the wrong place.

Todd
 

Tinhorn

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Hi Todd,

U're rite!  I don't know how I came up with 400' (?) but think I remember they said it was 240' on TV?  

here is what I saw in the article but also noticed it said it'd take hours to drill 300' ealier in the article?

As the drill bit began chewing into the earth, Long left to do some more surveying in another area.

About an hour and a half later, he returned, just in time to hear that the drill bit had broken through to the tunnel.

I guess all jobs have their dangers But I agree with you, I doubt I could take it.....

I half expected to hear on the news that one of the miners joked  get in that cage!  are you crazy, I might get claustrophobia

Tinhorn
 

ToddP

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I stayed up Saturday night till they pulled the first miner out.  This happend about 2 hrs west of here.  They dropped the headphones down the hole and the mines said "We've been waiting for you."  You can tell, these guys are down to earth, or under.

Todd
 

karstic

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Tinhorn, you wouldn't want to risk getting something stuck in the hole.
 

bowhunter1

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I heard an interesting comment on the news media about these miners. I heard that they tied a rope around each other and made a pledge that if one dies they all will die . UNITY...... I also heard that they put their goodbye thougts in a bucket and figured if they found their bodies they would find the bucket and read the goodbye thoughts. Since the miners were all rescued alive and well they decided not to read the goodbye thoughts.

Most improtantly, I heard that when these miners were their in the mine shaft, they started talking about what happens after you die. One of the guyes was reported to say well I hear if you are good you see GOD, If not you don't. All of the miners agreed. THE STRANGE TRUTH IS THAT BEING GOOD HAS REALLY LITTLE TO DO WITH SEEING GOD (ROMANS 5). JESUS IS THE TRUTH AND THE ONLY WAY(JOHN 14:6). IT IS BY HIS GRACE THAT WE INVITE HIM INTO OUR LIVES TO SAVE US FOR ETERNITY (ROMANS 8). THESE MINERS ALMOST MADE A WRONG DECISION THAT WOULD HAVE COST ALL OF THEM BEING LOST FOR ETERNITY. ETERNITY IS A VERY LONG TIME........

I SURE DO WISH SOMEONE COULD TALK WITH THESE INDIVIDUALS AND OTHER MISGUIDED INDIVIDUALS AND STEER THEM STRAIGHT. I FEEL THEY WERE GIVEN A SECOND CHANCE. THE TOTAL NUMBER OF CHANCES THEY WILL BE GIVEN IS UP TO GOD... SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT.. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT???????

1PETER 3:15
 

karstic

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Bowhunter1

What was their decision that they would have been lost for eternity?
 

ToddP

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I'm sure the have counted their blessing over and over and that many individuals are guiding them in the direction they want to go in.

Todd
 


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