In a shocking setback to the families of 12 miners trapped in a West Virginia mine, officials at the disaster site yesterday said there was only one survivor instead of 12 as initially reported, blaming a "miscommunication" for the error.
Live coverage from the scene on the news network CNN showed relatives in grief and shock leaving the church where they were told there had only been one survivor -- Randal McCloy -- after having received news hours earlier that 12 survivors had been found.
McCloy was reported as being unconscious upon discovery and was taken to hospital for treatment.
The discovery of the bodies on Tuesday night followed the earlier discovery Tuesday of a body found 213m from a battery-operated vehicle that took the miners into the shaft, bringing the death toll in the disaster to 12.
The miners were trapped in the Sago Mine in Upshur County near Tallmansville following an explosion at the mine early on Monday morning as workers arrived for their first shift after their holidays.
A woman coming from the meeting described tumultuous scenes inside the church where the news was broken to the families.
"The families are very angry," she told CNN.
"There were four-letter words ... people saying `hypocrites' and `liars,'" she told CNN, while there were also some fighting and shoving between angry relatives and state troopers inside the church.
At a press conference held after the incident, Ben Hatfield, president of the International Coal Group which owns the mine, apologized for the mixup, calling it a "miscommunication" between the rescue workers and the command center which gave the information that there were survivors.
He said he could not explain the time lag of almost three hours between the first report suggesting the miners were alive and the later information that they were dead, given to the families at around 2:30am.
Asked if the miners appeared to have survived some time, he said "yes," explaining the bodies had been found at a secure location made of a barricade structure about 4,000m underground.
Carbon monoxide levels in that part of the mine were 300 to 400 parts per million at the time of the discovery of the bodies at 11:45pm on Tuesday evening local time, adding the injuries of the deceased appeared to be related to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Shortly before midnight, after reports that the 12 miners had survived, bells pealed and cheers were heard at the Sago Baptist Church, as families celebrated. A few minutes later the throng, several hundred strong, broke into a chorus of the hymn How Great Thou Art, in the chilly, night air.
An ambulance was seen leaving the mine with an injured miner on board, whom Hatfield later identified as the sole survivor of the tragedy. Local hospital officials said the 26-year-old miner was in critical condition and would be transferred to a larger medical center.
At around 3am, however, a different scene evolved at the church as people began leaving in a state of shock and in tears after mining officials inside had confirmed the grim news that only one of the miners had survived.