April 7th, 2010
11:26 AM ET

Drilling continues at mine as anxious relatives wait

As anxious family members waited, efforts to drill bore holes and ventilate a West Virginia mine after a deadly explosion were under way Wednesday, with officials hoping to clear the air enough to send rescue crews back in.

"The rescue teams are prepared," West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin told reporters. "They're charged up, ready to go." Up to 30 rescuers could go in, he said.

Pipes were lowered into the first hole, drilled earlier Wednesday, and officials banged on the pipes in an effort to contact those underground, but there was no response, Manchin said.

The first hole punched into the Upper Big Branch South Mine about 4:15 a.m. ET after being drilled 1,093 feet below the Earth's surface, the governor said. Another hole was under way and about halfway complete, and a third would also be drilled, officials said.

The holes aim to ventilate the mine after high levels of methane and carbon monoxide forced rescue teams back early Tuesday because of the threat of another explosion. The pipes were being retracted from the hole, and a high-pressure exhaust fan will begin to pull the bad air out of the mine, Manchin said.

Officials believe they will know later Wednesday whether the air has been cleared enough to send rescue teams back in.

- CNN's William Mears contributed to this report.

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