America needed some good news.
After months of depressing stories about church scandals, corporate greed and corruption, murders, kidnappings and terrorist threats, we were greeted this past Sunday morning with the announcement that nine trapped coal miners were rescued against nearly impossible odds.
But before I tell you what happened, let me explain three things: First, I am claustrophobic. It bothers me to sit in a crowded room with the door closed. I have problems watching submarine movies. So, my mind can't even comprehend what it's like to be trapped 240 feet beneath solid rock in a four foot high space that is filled with 55 degree water. I try to imagine what it would be like, but I can't.
Second, for some reason I had a hard time sleeping early Sunday morning, so I turned on the television and saw the whole thing live. I witnessed the miners being rescued -- one by one -- as they emerged out of that tiny 26-inch wide hole that rescuers had been working on for 77 hours. I don't have the words to describe the amazing scene.
Third, our Heartwarmers mission is to give you stories about "strength, hope, courage and the triumph of the human spirit over adversity." Friends, there will never be a story that is more fitting.
This is a story where the list of heroes is endless. Hundreds of volunteer firemen, assisted by rescue experts from the federal and state governments, put forth a Herculean effort to engineer and execute a plan to get the miners out in time. When they finally broke through the ceiling of the underground chamber at 10:16 P.M. on Saturday night, workers were able to drop a telephone line to the miners through a pipe.
At that point, word spread instantly around the camp that all nine miners were alive. The local Sipesville Fire Hall, where the families had been gathering, erupted in celebration. Families cried and hugged and many were in the street with hands in the air.
Interestingly enough, the trapped miners actually saved several brother miners from certain death. When they accidentally broke into an abandoned water filled mine that incorrect maps had shown to be 300 feet away, 60 million gallons of water rushed into the shaft where they were working. They were able to warn the second crew, working behind them, to get out.
"They knew what was coming. We didn't. They are the heroes. If not for them, there'd be dead bodies," said mine worker Doug Custer, who was among the group who escaped the rushing water last Wednesday.
It was so cold that the nine trapped miners had huddled together to keep warm--making sure that those who were the coldest were kept in the middle and surrounded on all sides by the warmth of their brothers.
"We talked about anything, and everything. We didn't know what to think," miner Harry B. Mayhugh said. "There were high points and low points every day." When they heard the drilling stop, they wondered if the searchers had given up on them.
Planning for the worst, the nine wrote down last words to their loved ones and put those notes in a pail so they could be found. Then, they tethered themselves together, so that if they drowned rescuers would find them all.
But no one was about to give up. Efforts were intensifying.
Finally, as they emerged at 1 A.M. Sunday morning, the miners surprised medical personnel who had prepared to treat them for symptoms of hypothermia or the bends. Miraculously, only a couple required some medical attention.
But this incredible rescue was only part of a bigger picture surrounding the recent events in Somerset County in Southwest Pennsylvania. You see, this remarkable community, which many people might think is in the middle of nowhere, has had its share of attention.
Back on September 11, Somerset was cast in a worldwide spotlight when another group of rescuers--all volunteer Americans--decided to courageously stand up to the hijackers of Flight 93 and refused to let their plane be used to destroy the U.S. Capitol or The White House. The plane crashed just ten miles from the coal mine.
At that time, the community banded together, along with the rest of the world, to send sympathy to the families and to hallow the ground where the plane went down. The heroism of the 40 passengers of Flight 93 will never be forgotten.
This past weekend, reciprocity was the order of the day when the families of Flight 93 emailed messages to the families of the miners while they awaited word on the fate of their loved ones. It seems that Somerset County--a place where hard-working Americans call home--will also be known as the place of miracle rescues.
Whether it's an entire nation, or nine trapped miners--the determination, grit and ingenuity that Somerset now symbolizes will be used as an inspirational and shining example of what is right about America.
If the good people of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, can confront and overcome insurmountable odds--then we all can!