JENNERSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Six of the nine men trapped in a flooded mine in southwestern Pennsylvania two decades ago gathered at a raceway over the weekend to kick off 20th anniversary celebrations of the dramatic rescue that ended their 77-hour ordeal.
The six took in the races Saturday at Jennerstown Speedway in Somerset County, only miles from the Quecreek Mine, sitting with former Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker, news outlets reported. Blaine Mayhugh, John Phillippi, John Unger, Robert Pugh, Ronald Hileman, and Thomas “Tucker” Foy came to the track at intermission to applause from the crowd.
Miners broke through stone into the uncharted mine shaft on the night of July 24, 2002, releasing millions of gallons of water and trapping them more than 200 feet below the surface. Crews drilled a small shaft and lowered a small metal capsule, bringing them up one by one until the last was lifted to safety early on the morning of July 28.
“I can’t believe it’s been that long,” Hileman said. “A lot of memories still there.”
Schweiker, the former lieutenant governor who had been elevated nine months earlier after Gov. Tom Ridge was picked to run the newly formed U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Saturday’s gathering was like a family reunion.
“This weekend is about reflection and being grateful for dedicated first responders,” Schweiker said, referring to the team that came together to save the miners. One of the other miners rescued, Dennis Hall, 68, died May 13 and was also honored Saturday.
Kelsey Mayhugh was just 7 when she and her mother learned her father, the youngest of the miners, was trapped.
“I was really scared. And all I wondered was when my dad was coming home,” she said. “He really didn’t talk too much about it for the next 10 years.”
Mayhugh said living through Quecreek gave him a different outlook on life.
“I believed in religion more after the incident, and I appreciated life a lot, definitely a lot more,” he said. “You think nothing’s going to ever happen to you, at your guys’ age, and then something like that puts it in perspective that it could happen anytime to anybody.”
“It’s really nice to see these guys again,” Foy said. “We only see these guys one time a year.”
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Phillippi, attending his first reunion in a number of years, also said “I miss this group.”
“It just seems like a long time ago — and sometimes not long enough,” he said.