Those lost in collapse worked despite the risks
HUNTINGTON - The archery season for Utah deer hunters begins today, and normally Dale Ray Black would have been among those trying to bag a buck with a bow and arrow.
But the hunt will have to go on without him. On Thursday night, Black, 48, was one of three men killed while trying to reach the trapped workers at the Crandall Canyon mine.
"I wish he would have took a week off to scout like he normally does," said Black's brother, Drew Black.
Also killed were 29-year-old miner Brandon Kimber, of Price, and U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration accident investigator Gary Jensen, of Redmond, who would have celebrated his 49th birthday Friday.
Kimber, the father of twin 4-year-old boys and a 5-year-old daughter, "did this unselfishly," said his ex-wife, Kristen Kimber. "He knew what the risks were and he did it because he loved those men and he did it because that's the way Brandon was."
Boring deep into the earth on a quest for coal is a job loaded with danger - a thought never far from a miner's mind.
"These coal miners understand the risk and I'm sure Brandon talked about it. They go to work and they talk about it and form a family," she said.
But Kimber, who loved his job, looked at it this way: "If it's my time to go, hey, it's my time to go."
Jensen, known as "Gibb" by his friends, worked in the mining field for 34 years, including as a safety manager for the Sufco Mine in Salina Canyon from 1981 to 2001.
"It's important that he was still faithful that something could be done for those miners who are trapped," said Robert Jensen, one of Gary's four children. "He was devoted to his family and community as well as the miners he served."
Added Dustin Jensen, another of Jensen's children, "His passion was mine rescue. He always wanted to do everything he could to help."
Outside of mining, Jensen volunteered as an EMT and coached youth football, wrestling and other sports.
"It didn't matter who you were, if you were doing right or doing wrong, he would tell you," Dustin Jensen said. "He didn't like the spotlight."
For Dale Black's wife, Wendy Black, it's not the first family member lost in a coal mine. Wendy Black's father, Douglas O. Sitterud, died in a mining accident when she was 8 years old, said her brother, Lannie Sitterud.
"Last night it just brought back all the memories of when my dad died," Lannie Sitterud, who also is a coal miner, said Friday in an interview. The Sitterud family also has had a cousin die in a mining accident, he said.
Dale Black, of Huntington, worked in coal mines for 25 years, his family estimated Friday. Lannie Sitterud, who worked with his brother-in-law in mines for 10 years, remembered Dale Black as a hard worker who enjoyed coal mining and, like most miners, was attracted to the industry by the pay it offers.
"We all try to get out and we come right back to it," Lannie Sitterud said with a chuckle.
At Crandall Canyon, Dale Black was a section boss and had spent 11 days trying to free the six men trapped behind about 1,500 feet of rock and coal.
His uncle, Jack Allred, of Spring Glen, said Dale Black - who was called "bird," short for bird dog because he was always leading the work effort in the mine - had exhausted himself with the rescue attempt.
Helping was something Dale Black did a lot, his brother said. Drew Black remembered his brother stopping to help strangers who had car trouble and assisting in searches for people lost in the San Rafael Swell.
"If he saw a red flag on a boat, he's over there helping them," Drew Black said. "If he found someone stuck [in the mud] he's pulling them out."
Besides his wife, Dale Black is survived by a 22-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son, his family said. The family on Friday did not offer specifics on how Dale Black's accident occurred or what he was doing.
"Dale never had any fear in life," Drew Black said. "He's always been: 'We will enjoy it.' "
Memorial services for Dale Black will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the Little Bear campground in Huntington Canyon.
Services for Gary Jensen and Brandon Kimber have not been announced.
Jensen's family is asking in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to the families of the trapped miners through Zions Bank.
* Tribune reporter JEREMIAH STETTLER and THE RICHFIELD REAPER contributed to this report.