There were supposed to be 10 miners trapped in Quecreek’s flooded mine, not nine – and the youngest on the crew says Ozzy Osbourne helped him escape fate.
Twenty-two-year-old Pennsylvania coal miner Roger Shaffer skipped work and went to Ozzfest on July 24 after his 19-year-old wife Lacey pleaded with him to attend with her, and he now credits Osbourne and his wife, Sharon, with potentially saving his life.
Lacey had bought the couple’s tickets for the original Ozzfest stop at the Post-Gazette Pavilion in Burgettstown, near Pittsburgh, which was to take place on July 7, her husband’s day off. But the tour date was postponed when Sharon Osbourne’s cancer diagnosis became public, and the new tour date fell during Roger’s work week. Lacey said she had to “beg and whine” to get him to take the day off and join her at the show, since he’s more into Dylan and “burnout music” than Ozzy. Not anymore.
After the show, the Shaffers went back to their car, retrieved their cell phone and started checking their messages on the drive home. Roger said it was “kind of weird” at first that they had over a dozen messages from people who kept asking if he were OK. Why wouldn’t he be? he wondered. Then he got the harrowing news – nine of his co-workers, his crew, were trapped 240 feet underground at the Quecreek Mine, nearly submerged in 50 million gallons of water.
“This one buddy who called, he thought I was in there with them,” Roger said. “And I thought he was joking. But once I realized he was serious, I got off the phone.”
Roger then drove to the mine, but he couldn’t get in to help or learn much about what had happened until morning. Thousands of gallons of water were being pumped out, and there wasn’t much he could do to help the rescue effort other than guard the road leading to the mine. He felt helpless, numb, and scared for his crew. He was grateful for the twist of fate that spared him, guilty for feeling grateful and a whole host of other emotions he couldn’t put a name to.
“I cried. I just cried,” he said. “I didn’t even cry at my wedding. But I was crying.”
As an apprentice on the crew (otherwise called a “red hat”), Shaffer said that his particular job duties, which were meant to train him in all the different jobs in the mine, would have endangered him, since he would have been running back and forth through the mine. “I could have died,” he said. “I could have been by the power center, which had a blowback. I could have been more by the water. I don’t know what could have happened.”
Since the flooding, Roger’s gone back underground, much to his wife’s disapproval. “I don’t have a choice,” he said. “I don’t have the money for college, and I have to work to pay my bills. And I’m fairly OK, even though there’s something inside me that says it ain’t right. But I don’t know what that is, or what to do about it, except to keep doing what I’m doing.”
“He’s more bullheaded than I am,” Lacey added. “But I’m never going to have to beg him to go to a show with me again.”
Roger’s coworkers – Tom Foy, Blaine Mayhugh, John Unger, Randy Fogle, Dennis J. Hall, Mark Popernack, John Hileman, Bob Pugh and John Phillippi – were rescued in the early morning hours of July 28 after they had been trapped 240 feet underground in 55-degree water for 77 hours.