April 28, 2006 08:50 AM

Surviving West Virginia miner Randal McCloy Jr. has sent a heartfelt letter to the families of his co-workers explaining what he recalled about the Jan. 2 explosion that instantly killed one miner, then spread carbon monoxide that slowly asphyxiated 11 others who were trapped underground.

The message not only expresses McCloy’s sympathy for his fellow workers, but reveals much of went wrong that tragic day.

“I cannot begin to express my sorrow for my lost friends and my sympathy for those they left behind,” McCloy, 27, wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Associated Press. “I hope that my words will offer some solace to the miners’ families and friends who have endured what no one should ever have to endure.”

The miners returned to their rail car in hopes of escaping along the track, McCloy revealed, but they eventually were forced to abandon the effort because of bad air. They then retreated, hung a curtain to keep out the poisonous gases and tried to signal their location by beating on roof bolts and plates.

Martin “Junior” Toler, 51, and Tom Anderson, 39, tried to find a way out but were turned back by heavy smoke and fumes. “We were worried and afraid, but we began to accept our fate,” McCloy wrote. “Junior Toler led us all in the Sinners Prayer” – a prayer for salvation of one’s soul.

“Some drifted off into what appeared to be a deep sleep, and one person sitting near me collapsed and fell off his bucket, not moving. It was clear that there was nothing I could do to help him,” McCloy wrote.

Doctors have been unable to pinpoint why McCloy, 27, was the only miner to survive the 41 hours it took rescuers to find the crew, though they have said his youth may have helped. He was hospitalized for several weeks in a coma and suffered brain damage that affects his ability to hold a conversation.

Though state and federal investigators have reached no official conclusions about the cause of the explosion, ICG officials say they believe a lightning bolt that ignited a buildup of naturally occurring methane caused the blast.

Spurred by McCloy’s letter, congressmen and some of the victims’ relatives are now calling on the federal government to upgrade air packs and require the use of tracking devices and communication systems to make sure West Virginia’s heartache is never repeated.

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