SOMERSET, Pa. – A year after the triumphant rescue of nine men from the flooded Quecreek Mine, many of those involved still get choked up thinking about it.

“Watching the miners come up was much like watching our kids being born,” says former Gov. Mark Schweiker. An anniversary celebration this week will include a Sunday prayer service and the crowning of “Miss Miracle Miner.”

But amid the warm memories, some of the shine has worn off the miracle.

Several of the miners suffer from anxiety and depression. Six have filed lawsuits, and a central figure in the rescue effort committed suicide last month. Investigations into what went wrong at the mine remain secret.

And people in this rural area 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh wonder when the attention will finally stop.

“It’s been a year,” said Doug Custer, who escaped from the mine ahead of the flood. “It’s time to get on with your life.”

That may be easier said than done for the nine men who spent 77 hours trapped underground, sharing a single sandwich, writing farewell notes to their families and tying themselves together so all of their bodies would be found if they drowned.

Seven are still on medication, said their lawyer, Howard Messer. Only two – Randy Fogle and Mark Popernack – have returned to work.

“You go through this nightmare,” said Messer. “It’s like being caught in an endless Freddy Krueger movie.”

Fogle, Popernack, John Phillippi, Dennis Hall, Ronald Hileman, John Unger, Robert Pugh, Blaine Mayhugh and Thomas Foy were trapped July 24, 2002, when they breached a rock wall that separated their shaft from an abandoned mine. They had thought the other mine was 300 feet away.

The Quecreek Mine was flooded by more than 50 million gallons of water that had collected in the other mine.

Rescuers rushed to drill a man-sized hole to the spot where they believed the miners were, while pumping breathable air through a smaller hole.

On the night of July 27, the drill reached the chamber where the men had been huddling in the dark, and the men were pulled up a narrow shaft in a yellow cage, one by one, in a rescue that transfixed the nation.

The euphoria soon began to wear off.

In November, investigators issued a preliminary report blaming an inaccurate map of the neighboring mine and wondering why a later map, which did show mining in the area where the breakthrough occurred, hadn’t been available. The final report hasn’t been released while a grand jury investigates.

Six of the miners filed lawsuits alleging past and present mine owners and operators knew or should have known of the danger because tax records showed the area had been mined 40 years earlier.

“The point becomes, what’s more important here, the men or the coal,” Messer said.

The lawsuits have created some bad feelings, particularly among some miners who worry they could lose their jobs at the Quecreek mine, which reopened in November.

The lawsuits were filed against PBS Coals Inc., which operates the mine.

Messer says the lawsuits aren’t intended to put anyone out of business and that the company is insured. But Gerard Cipriani, who represents PBS, said the investigations and lawsuits cost the company plenty.

If Quecreek were to be shut down, it would cost miners their jobs.

Custer, who says his life may have been saved when one of the trapped miners warned his crew of the flood, says that possibility keeps him up nights.

“I bet 90 percent of the guys are worried about it,” he said.

Another source of concern has been last month’s suicide of Bob Long, who helped pinpoint where the miners were holed up underground. His work helped lead to the drilling of the hole that provided air and warmth to the miners.

Long was the only rescuer to receive, like the miners, $150,000 from The Walt Disney Co. for a TV movie and book, but his participation apparently led to a break with the miners and their families.

Messer said any falling out was short-lived. Long’s father, Wally Long, says the rift weighed on his son, but he doesn’t know if it played a role in his death. He said his son had other problems.

Fogle went back to working underground early this year. This past week, Mark Popernack took a job with PBS, selling coal. Neither is part of the lawsuits.

Popernack, the only one of the nine willing to speak to The Associated Press, has spent his time fishing and hunting, celebrating a second chance at life.

“I’m just glad to be able to see it rain,” he said.

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