An abandoned coal mine in McDowell County where a man went missing was being sealed on Tuesday.
The situation began last Tuesday at the Keystone Number 1 Mine in Keystone, McDowell County. State police believe four men entered the mine in search of copper to sell for money. Three of the men, Steve Cordle, Brandon Collins, and Justin Bolen came out of the mine that same day. The fourth man Clay Epperly, Jr. never came out. Rescue crews brought in a fan to blow air into the mine. That fan remained in place until Tuesday. Now the fan is being removed and the mine is being sealed.
On Tuesday, September 6, 2016, Lois Epperly said her final goodbye to her son, Clay Epperly Jr., 30, at the Keystone Number 1 Mine.
Lois said, “They just took me up there so I could say my goodbyes. They’ve given up on him. I just want my baby out of there. I’m going to have no closure until I see him. I just want to see him. I don’t believe it. CJ was well loved.”
Lois said she believes foul play was involved with the other 3 men who made it out of the mine.
Lois said, “Please, I just wish somebody would help me. I wish somebody would try to do something. If that was a coal miner, they wouldn’t have left him behind. They think he was a no good bum and that’s the first time he’s ever went in there with them boys. They been going in there for months and months. Text messages, we’ve got them. I’m hoping the law will follow up and prosecute them. I still think it’s foul play. I still think they’ve done something to my son because he would have come out of there.”
Chief of Operations Tom Lusk wants the public to know that going into an abandoned mine is extremely dangerous. Lusk is with the Southern Coal Company. He said abandoned mines are sealed for a reason. The search ended last week due to unsafe conditions but according to Lusk, they left the fan running over the weekend to give the family hope. Lusk said they realized a miracle was not going to happen and they had to render the place safe by sealing the mine. Lusk went on to tell us about the dangerous conditions dealing with abandoned mines. Black damp is an old miner’s expression for air inside a mine when it reaches a point where it does not have enough oxygen to sustain life. According to Lusk, human beings start to fatigue and have labored breathing and their cognitive skills start to be impacted at 14% oxygen. At 12% oxygen, he said you lose your ability to move around Between 9% and 10% oxygen , you are unconscious. When crews arrived at the Keystone Number 1 Mine in hopes of finding Epperly, the oxygen was at 12%, according to Lusk.
Clay’s mother said her two grandchildren want their daddy .
Lois said, “My granddaughters, they’re going crazy and his girlfriend. They’re about to lose their mind. Every day, this little girl asks me for her daddy. She wants him out too. She wants to see her daddy. I go to bed crying and first thing wakes me up is crying. I got his T-shirt. I hang on to it just to smell his body. That’s all I can say”.
A memorial is being planned at the mine site once it’s safe for the public. Troopers said the other three men could be facing charges of felony breaking and entering and conspiracy to commit a felony.