In light of the search at the Upper Big Branch mine, 59 news looked into the dangers of going inside an abandoned mine. According to the Office of Miners Health Safety and Training, entering an abandoned coal mine is more dangerous than standing in the middle of a rush-hour freeway. Although the empty mines may seem harmless, Mine Rescue Trainer Donnie Coleman says they are anything but safe. “Sometimes people get a misconception as they first enter a mine at the first hundred or two hundred feet, thinking the air is alright when in reality, deeper in the mines you have an extreme low oxygen content and all it takes is a little atmospheric change in pressure to brings that low oxygen out and then you’ll find yourself unconscious or unresponsive,” said Coleman.
Coleman also said that the chances for a search team to safely rescue a trapped individual can sometimes be slim. “We did a recovery last spring in McDowell County, the guy had been in the mines approximately a day and a half and when we got to him, we found him in 14% oxygen, he was unresponsive when we got to him, so he was near a fatality,” said Coleman.
Although search teams are wearing proper equipment to protect them from potentially deadly gases in the mine, they still face the same dangers as the person they are rescuing. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration, dozens of people are injured or killed each year in recreational accidents at abandoned quarries, mines and pits.