Down in the Sago Mine
Randy McCloy, the sole survivor of the Sago Mine accident, attends the signing ceremony of the Miner Act at the White House on June 15, 2006 in Washington, DC.
Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images
From outside the command center the news has jumped across the Buckhannon River to some of the relatives waiting at the Sago Baptist Church. A man bursts up to the front of the church, shouting, "They're alive!"

Everyone is instantly on their feet, pressing their hands to their mouths or clenching their hair or one another's shoulders. Hollering and joyful screaming begin to swirl around the room until everybody is caught up in the great dance. Anna McCloy looks around for Ben Hatfield, the mine president. He had told them, "If you don't hear it from me, don't believe it." He is nowhere in sight, but so many people are cheering that something must be happening. The church bells start to clang. Anna gives herself up to the joy and starts to dance. She runs outside to be closer to the mine and maybe see the men just dancing, dancing over the bridge. And why not? For the Lord is merciful! Praise God! Praise Jesus! It is shouted everywhere.

West Virginia governor Joe Manchin corners Anna in the narrow vestibule as she leaves the church and asks her what on earth is happening. She tells him. He starts crying and stoops to hug her. "I told you miracles happen in West Virginia!" he says. He says it to everyone he sees. He calls the command center, and the people around him see him listening with a smile. He gives everyone a thumbs-up.

Family members begin moving outdoors; the walls cannot contain their excitement. In the bitter-cold midnight hour the 200 or so sing "How Great Thou Art."

At 11:49 an excited man runs up to CNN's Anderson Cooper, shouting, "We got 12 alive!" as Cooper broadcasts from the gravel lot below the church. CNN cannot confirm the report, and says it cannot, but Cooper starts describing the celebration, which seems to speak for itself. Millions of Americans are also celebrating and can now go to bed happy after watching days and nights of tense coverage.

"It is a miracle; there's no other explanation," the governor, soon across the road in the command center, tells several major news organizations by phone.

Half of America's daily newspapers will have the miracle story on their front pages the next morning.

At the junction to the main tunnel the rescuers come stumbling exhausted out of Two Left with Randy barely alive on the stretcher. The men there have been watching them approach, watching the mad swirl of their distant cap lamps, and are now cheering to welcome them.

"Where are they? Where's the rest of 'em?" the men shout.

Jim Klug and his team suddenly understand that the word got out real wrong.

"The rest of them is dead," one of Klug's men says.

Randy finally gets pure oxygen and is moved to a mantrip.

Klug gets on the mine phone to Rick Marlow in the command center.

"Listen, we got 11 items," Klug says.

Tim Martin, one of the men who put together the code in response to press leaks, is standing near Marlow in the command center and hears this. Martin suddenly feels ill; he knows what Klug is saying. He yells for the room, still in full celebration, to quiet down.

"Items!" Martin shouts. "They said they got 11 items!"

The room finally dies down.

"Forget the code," Marlow tells Klug. "What do you mean?"

"There's 11 deceased people," Klug replies. "One alive."

Marlow repeats it to the room. It is 12:23 a.m. There is silence. The half-hour-long party ends in one thickened moment.

Soon the rescue team is out of the tunnel. Randy is loaded into an ambulance and sped away. Klug and his men stumble to the shower house. Klug scrubs his hands. They all do. They have dealt with a grisly scene. They are feeling the weight of the miscommunication. The one corner cut by command center, the 1,000-foot maximum between fresh air bases (and thus phone communications), had been a bad one.

EMTs are sent in to confirm the deaths and ID the bodies. That will take another few hours, during which time the command center and governor are silent to the world, and the little church rocks on in high hallelujah.