Underdogs underground: S&T students take on the pros in mining competition

MineRescueThe only sound in the darkened mine tunnel is water dripping off limestone walls. A lone injured miner lies motionless on the gravel floor. Five lights pierce the darkness as muffled voices announce the arrival of the rescue team.“Hold on, Buddy. We are going to get you out of here,” says team captain Casey Slaughter, MinE’09, his voice distorted through his rebreather mask.

The mining engineering graduate student from Webb City, Mo., barks out commands to the team as the five stabilize the mine’s roof and remove the injured miner on a wheeled stretcher. Back on the surface, they remove the Velcro straps securing him to the stretcher. Released from those bonds, he rises and smiles.

This has all been a training exercise at Missouri S&T’s Experimental Mine, a research and training site drilled out between the railroad tracks and a quarry on the southwest side of Rolla.

Two Missouri S&T Mine Rescue Teams practice for various national and regional contests. Every fall, one of those events is held at the Experimental Mine. Judges from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration evaluate the S&T teams, along with rescue groups from mining companies, on how they handle a simulated underground disaster situation.

It’s kind of like a semi-pro football team going up against a professional football team in the NFL. – Casey Slaughter, MinE’09

While the S&T teams have a home-court advantage at the Experimental Mine, they’re competing against industry professionals who work together daily. “It’s kind of like a semi-pro football team going up against a professional football team in the NFL,” Slaughter says.

Slaughter spent last summer in Australia at Melbourne’s Monash University, which is starting its own mining engineering program.

“Mine rescue is a real big brotherhood,” says Slaughter, who plans to graduate with his Ph.D. in 2014.

“We all have friends out in industry who take care of us and we take care of them.”

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