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Quecreek miner visits school, quarries

February 24, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

About 70 employees of Valley Quarries Inc. listened in silence Friday morning as Ron Schad told of that terrible night when he picked up the phone in the section of the Quecreek mine where he and eight others were working.

The call came from Dennis Hall, a co-worker in another section of the Somerset, Pa., mine, who was a half-mile away in a nine-man crew.

Hall, whose crew had drilled through a wall and into an abandoned mine that maps showed was supposed to be 300 feet away, screamed into the phone for Schad's crew to get out fast. Water came rushing into their section with such force that it pushed a 50-ton machine around like a small toy, Schad said.

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More than 60 million gallons of water eventually entered the mine where the men were working. "It was like Niagara Falls," Schad said.

Federal mine inspectors still are investigating the July 24 incident and are checking to see why more current maps weren't available to the miners, Schad said.

Schad, 50, said he and his fellow miners had minutes to escape the flood that they heard raging toward them while Hall's crew scrambled to an air pocket.

Schad and his crew went through 11/2 miles of shafts to reach the mine entrance and safety.

"We were crawling through mud, but we all stayed together and helped each other out," he said.

With shafts never more than 4 feet high, in some places only 38 inches, the men made their way to the entrance.

"The walls were blowing out as we were going through," Schad said.

Hall and the eight men in the air pocket were rescued 77 hours later on July 28.

Heads shook quietly among the Valley Quarries employees at the Hays Development and Convention Center at the Letterkenny Industrial Park as Schad spoke. Valley Quarries of Chambersburg operates limestone quarries in Franklin, Adams and Cumberland counties, said John C. Englerth, company health and safety coordinator.

"This is our annual refresher course. It's required by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administrator," he said. "The guys get bored going over the same things they already know every year."

Englerth said he asked Schad to speak to the men because of what he had been through. Deep mining and surface mining have some similar issues, he said.

"Communication is the key to your safety," Schad told the employees, showing them the portable phone that Hall used to call him. "I saved nine lives by answering that phone."

He said fire and gas explosions are the biggest fears in coal mining, not water.

"I never imagined that this could happen."

Schad's daughter, Melissa Schad, lives in Chambersburg and his grandson is a second-grader at Mary B. Sharpe Elementary School in Chambersburg. Schad spoke to the class Friday.

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