Families Say 11 of 12 W.Va. Miners Dead

Family members learned early Wednesday that 11 of the 12 coal miners who were initially thought to have survived an explosion in a coal mine have died. —Allen G. BreedFamilies Say 11 of 12 W.Va. Miners Dead (AP|MyWay)

This is horrible.

The lead of Breed’s original story says the miners “were found,” but does not say by whom, nor does the lead source the claim. A quote from the governor says “They told us” the news, but doesn’t specify who “they” are. The headline does say “Families Say,” so it looks like an alert editor was doing a good job.

In a bit of careful reporting that I noticed the first time around, but didn’t comment on because I didn’t want to sound cynical, Breed wrote, “Neither the company nor the governor’s office immediately confirmed that the men were alive.”

The key detail is this, the fourth paragraph from the end: “A relative at the church said a mine foreman called relatives there, saying the miners had been found.”

If I were Breed or his editor, I’d probably wish that the sourcing information came earlier, but in a breaking news situation, in an environment filled with reporters competing for the big story, in a town where families who had withdrawn from the press when they were contemplating bad news… Well, it’s only human to go along with the story.

Hindsight is 20/20, but a better lead would have been the one I just found for the Philadelphia Enquirer:

Twelve coal miners were found alive here last night, 41 hours after an explosion killed a fellow miner and trapped them underground, family members said.

As bells pealed at the New Life Tabernacle Church in nearby Buckhannon, where family members had gathered, relatives ran out screaming in jubilation, “They’re alive!”

Since the families had been carefully shielded from the media, and since the authorities were briefing the family members on a regular basis, I can understand why reporters went ahead with the assumption that the family members had been given reliable information.

It looks like the 12 miners did survive the blast that caused the collapse, and that they left their vehicle and moved to another location.

I’m speculating here, but it’s possible that somebody with part of the story — the knowledge that the miners weren’t killed by the explosion — overheard somebody else relaying a message that the miners had been located, and without waiting to check on their status, whipped out a cell phone and called someone at the vigil site.