SOMERSET, Pa. (AP) -- Nine coal miners were trapped in a flooded shaft early Thursday after they apparently ruptured a nearby abandoned mine that was filled with water, officials said. Hours later, rescuers reported hearing tapping.
The tapping created "a glimmer of hope" that the miners, who were trapped at the Quecreek Mine late Wednesday, are safe, said Betsy Mallison, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
"It is a race against time because the water is still filling (the mine)," she said. "We don't want to raise expectations at this time, but it's a good sign."
Rescue workers at the mine about 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh heard the tapping around 3 a.m. after drilling a 6-inch-wide air hole. David Sbaffoni, with the state Bureau of Deep Mine Safety, said he has no doubt that at least some of the miners were alive after a second round of tapping was heard around 6 a.m.
"We tapped and we heard tapping back," Sbaffoni said. He said the miners apparently dashed into an air pocket about 200 feet from where the wall of the abandoned mine was breached.
Emergency crews planned to bring in a larger drilling rig to bore a 36-inch wide hole down to where the miners are believed to be. Then, a basket would be lowered to the miners. Officials said it could take as many as 18 hours to drill the larger hole.
Workers would occasionally rap the metal drill in the hole with a metal mallet, then put an ear to the machinery to listen for a response.
"It's a very ticklish situation we're in" with water still filling the mine, David Hess, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said earlier. "It's very touch and go."
Another crew of miners -- warned by the men who were trapped -- had managed to wade to safety in water up to their necks after the accident shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday sent water gushing into the mine, authorities said.
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