Quecreek mine rescue transforms life of farm owner
As the 12th anniversary of the Quecreek Mine rescue approaches, the owner of the dairy farm where nine miners were trapped underground for 77 hours shared on Thursday how the event renewed his faith and changed his life's path.
“It's always something that's going to be seared into my memory,” Bill Arnold told members of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce. “It's made a dramatic change in my life.”
Arnold, who has lived in Lincoln Township all his life, was working on the farm the night of July 24, 2002. He heard voices in the pasture and went outside to investigate, thinking there were intruders.
What he found was much scarier — the miners who were working in Quecreek Mine had broken through to the abandoned, water-filled Saxman Mine, and Quecreek was filling with water. Worse, nine miners were trapped in an underground air pocket.
Arnold's farm quickly became ground zero for the nearly five-day-long rescue effort that included mining experts, emergency personnel, Navy SEALs and other farmers.
Arnold said the rescue became personal when his lifelong friend, Sandy Popernack, arrived. Her husband, Mark, was one of the trapped miners.
“I went over to her, and I said, ‘Sandy, we'll get them out,' ” Arnold said.
After a tense 18 hours when a drill malfunction was repaired, people around the world who were captivated by the rescue effort watched television broadcasts showing all nine men rising 240 feet to the surface in a yellow steel cage.
Since 2002, Arnold has worked to preserve the site and to remind others of its historical importance. In 2006, the state designated his farm as a historic landmark. Arnold is the executive director of the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation, which raises money to preserve the site.
“This is not about me; it's not about my farm. It's about what God did and the miracles that happened that day,” he said.
Arnold's farm houses a museum dedicated to the Quecreek Mine accident and the region's coal industry. A destination for tour buses and school field trips, the museum charges $6 admission and features exhibits on the media coverage of Quecreek, a re-creation of the fire hall where the miners' families kept watch and the yellow rescue capsule.
The museum recently acquired mining artifacts and exhibits from the defunct Windber Coal Heritage Center, which was owned by the Rosebud Mining company.
“We realize what we do in part is teaching others about mining history,” Arnold said. “Younger people don't have an understanding of why you'd want to be underground like that, so we have to share history.”
Another draw for tourists is that the farm is only 9 miles from the site of the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville. Arnold said many tour buses first visit the site in Stonycreek Township where a hijacked jetliner crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, then stop at Quecreek.
The Shanksville memorial pays tribute to the 40 passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93 who gave their lives in thwarting a planned terrorist attack on the nation's capital.
“These sites are very close, both geographically and in feeling,” Arnold said. “The common bond is people doing the right thing if for no other reason than it's the right thing to do.”
Arnold said it was this realization that renewed his Christian faith. Though before the accident, he went to church occasionally and thought of himself as a “pretty good guy,” he now attends church regularly and calls the rescue a miracle from God.
“It made a dramatic change in my life,” Arnold said. “Having those guys coming up from the ground at the farm was the best crop we've ever had.”
Alicia McElhaney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Emaciated Lab-collie mix found in garbage bag in New Stanton
- Friends take to social media to recall Herminie teen
- Wanted: Youngwood Borough Council member
- MAX Environmental fined for ordinance violations
- Derry Area energy costs expected to rise
- Convicted killer won’t be freed in 1973 double-murder of children
- Ex-kennel manager in Fayette County ordered to pay fines
- Judge removes Zapatosky, Fayette County from civil rights suit
- Burglary, attempted assault at Rostraver bowling lanes investigated
- Greensburg torture killer seeks reduction in sentence
- Westmoreland County to auction guns, vehicles