Two groups to combine Quecreek rescue tributes
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Those interested in the dramatic rescue 10 years ago of nine miners trapped for more than three days in the Quecreek Mine in Somerset County will now have a single location to experience the "Miracle at Quecreek."
The Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation and the Windber Coal Heritage Center announced Monday they will consolidate equipment and other historical artifacts they've collected from the dramatic July 2002 event for display at the foundation's visitors center at the rescue site.
"This is certainly going to be a world-class visitors center when it's completed," said Bill Arnold, foundation executive director and the farmer upon whose land the rescue took place. "The exhibits from Windber are of exceptional quality, they are very adept at telling the story in detail and will fit in nicely here."
Until now, both the foundation, which operated the visitors center, and the heritage center, 36 miles away, independently offered exhibitions and artifacts from the rescue. But at the 10th anniversary celebration at the rescue site in July, Mr. Arnold, U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, and John Garcia of Rosebud Mining Co., which owns the heritage center, hatched the idea of possibly consolidating the pieces of the historic rescue.
The drama began July 24, 2002, when miners 240 feet underground broke through to an adjacent, water-filled mine, flooding Quecreek with 150,000 gallons of water. A crew of nine miners who were farther away in the mine escaped, but nine others were trapped. They sought safety at the highest point above water level, which authorities above ground assumed they would do.
With that knowledge, and the hope they were still alive, officials quickly drilled an air shaft to pump life-sustaining heated, oxygen-rich air into their chamber and set about the laborious task of drilling a much larger shaft for the eventual rescue, which occurred in the early morning hours of July 28, 2002.
The foundation's visitors center already displays memorabilia and equipment used in the rescue, most notably the now-iconic yellow rescue capsule that brought the men to the surface after never having been used previously except in training exercises. The property also includes a monument to miners and the shafts that were drilled during the rescue.
More than 10,000 people a year visit the site, which became part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Historical Marker Program in 2006 and an affiliate of the Heinz History Center in 2010.
The items from Windber include:
• A wall commemorating rescue personnel that includes biographies of all 18 miners who were underground when the breach occurred.
• A "tribute wall" recognizing those who helped in the rescue effort and showcasing items contributed by people all over the country, plus a collage of media coverage.
• The drill bit that broke through to the chamber where the miners were trapped.
• A sample of the water that inundated the mine and more than 60 artifacts of the event -- even the blue denim shirt and loafers then-Gov. Mark Schweiker wore while guiding the rescue effort.
• A replica of the rescue capsule that was used in the ABC-Disney TV movie "The Pennsylvania Miners' Story."
The visitors center will be closed for an undetermined amount of time as the new exhibits and artifacts are put into place. Information is available at the foundation's website: www.9for9.org.
First Published October 30, 2012 12:00 am