The tragic miscommunication began when rescue workers deep in the mine called the rescue command center at the surface at 11:45 p.m. to report that the other 12 miners had been found alive.
Gene Kitts, senior vice president at International Coal, said the call came into the command center over an open speaker and was heard by about 30 people. As soon as the words “12 are alive” were heard, he said, the room erupted in joy
—so much that many of those in the room were asked to leave. They went into the parking lot, where they continued to celebrate.
Within eight minutes, word reached family members, who began to celebrate. The bells of the Sago church pealed, and the throng sang How Great Thou Art.
But by 12:30 a.m., Hatfield and Kitts said, they got another call from the rescue teams in the mine that said only one miner was alive.
The underground rescue team members, all of whom were wearing bulky oxygen gear that could make speech difficult to understand, relayed information to a separate team stationed at a “fresh air” base at a higher elevation. Workers at the fresh air base then relayed word to the command center. —Tom Vanden Brook and Bill Nichols —Tragic turn stuns families (USA Today)
The details surrounding exactly how the miscommunication happened are now emerging. It was, quite literally, a “telephone game,” in which one person passes information on to the next, and as the message becomes separated from the source, our own hopes and fears can mutate the message into the very thing we have been imagining ourselves hearing.