At dawn one day last week, the day shift went down to take over from the night shift at Easington colliery, Durham, England. In the long, narrow tunnel leading from the main shaft to the coal face, 1,000 feet below the surface, 40 incoming miners filed past 40 outgoing miners. By the dim light of their head lamps, they exchanged the customary cheery "Good morning." Suddenly an explosion shook the earth. The 80 men were buried beneath tons of debris.

Within 20 minutes, the first rescue workers went down into the black,...

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