A second drill broke through early yesterday to a mine shaft where officials hope to find six workers who were trapped when the mine collapsed, authorities said.
The hole cleared the way for a video camera to be lowered in an effort to provide the first answers to the miners' fate.
Nearly 23cm wide, the hole reached the mine shaft between 2am and 3am, said Bob Murray, chief of mine co-owner Murray Energy Corp. Crews were removing the heavy drill steel and planned to send down the camera within a few hours.
There has been no word from the miners since the Crandall Canyon mine collapsed early on Monday. A microphone lowered into a smaller hole yielded no sounds of life and an air sample taken through the 5cm hole detected little oxygen.
However, officials remained hopeful that the six men trapped in the mine were still alive.
"It's always been a rescue mission," Murray said after announcing the second drill hole was finished. "It's coming all out in accordance with our plans, but it's just too slow."
Murray planned to meet with the miners' families before providing more details. The first images from the camera were not expected until late yesterday morning.
Rescuers hoped to see anything positive after days of feverish work and no signs that the miners were alive. The first drill hole provided only disappointment when the microphone picked up no sounds and the air sample results were well below breathable.
There was no sign of carbon dioxide to indicate that people below were exhaling. But mine officials kept up hope, saying the miners may have fled to a nearby 300m-long exit tunnel that could have more oxygen.
Rescuers planned to lower through the second hole audio and visual equipment that could pick up signs of life. The 575m hole would also be big enough to send down food and water, officials said.
Crews also continued their tireless horizontal dig toward the miners, struggling to remove the rubble from the mine shaft. It could take another week to actually reach the men and bring them out.
The mother of missing miner Don Erickson refused to be discouraged.
"We keep getting these other bits and pieces that are encouraging, so we're going to hold onto that for now," said the 69-year-old woman, who asked that her name not be used because she did not want to receive calls.
Around Huntington, a rugged town of around 2,000, the men's plight evoked a similar, understated reaction, reflecting perhaps the stoicism of a community well-acquainted with the risks of digging coal deep below the earth's surface.
That changed somewhat on Friday night, when some 300 people attended a candlelight vigil honoring the workers.
Outside the Huntington elementary school, residents left well-wishing notes on poster boards bearing large pictures of the miners.
The mining company has not identified the miners, but the Associated Press has learned they are a crew of veterans and novices. According to family and friends, they are: Carlos Payan, in his 20s; Kerry Allred, 57; Manuel Sanchez, 41; Brandon Phillips, 24; Luis Hernandez, 23; and Erickson, 50.