Ed Popernack of Somerset, whose son, Mark, was one of the nine miners rescued in Quecreek in 2002, stands on a fence and steadies the historical marker as Russel Hess, father of former state secretary of Environmental Protection David Hess, pulls a rope to unveil the plaque Saturday.

Four years after nine miners were dramatically pulled to safety after 77 hours underground, state officials dedicated an official historical marker commemorating the Quecreek Mine rescue Saturday.

Four of the nine miners returned for the ceremony, recalling the harrowing ordeal with hope instead of heartache.

“This is a good thing they’re doing here to preserve history,” said Ronald Hileman, the sixth miner rescued from the shaft.

Surrounded by a crowd of about 100 at the farm where the rescue took place in Lincoln Township, miner Robert Pugh revived a word that has been used often since the accident – miracle.

“I come here every year to see the people who helped rescue me,” said Pugh, who was flanked by Hileman and fellow miners Thomas Foy and Blaine Mayhugh. “Its a miracle we can all witness.”

Other dignitaries in attendance were state Rep. Bob Bastian, R-Somerset; Laura Fisher of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; state Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar; Somerset County Commissioner James Marker; and Joe Sbaffoni, the state’s director of Deep Mine Safety who played an integral role in the rescue.

“What happened that day was truly a miracle in itself,” Kasunic said. “Our prayers and efforts were nothing but spectacular. When those men came out of the mine, our tears were flowing, and once again Somerset County was in the spotlight.”

But, despite the national attention triggered by the rescue, Kasunic said little has been done to improve mine safety since.

“I am embarrassed to stand here and tell you we have not delivered on our promise to make our mines safer,” he said.

The blue-and-gold plaque reads:

“On July 28, 2002, nine coal miners, trapped for four days due to flooding of the Quecreek Mine, were saved via a rescue shaft drilled here. Combined efforts of local, state, and federal agencies, mining and other industries, local mine workers, emergency responders, and community members led to the rescue. The incident prompted changes in mine safety, mapping and drilling methods. It roused national media and public attention.”

As the unveiling took place, a cow mooed in a neighboring field, reminding the hushed crowd that this was just a normal Somerset County farm touched by extreme circumstances.

“Its humbling,” said Lori Arnold, owner of Dormel Farms, where the rescue site is located. “Ever since the release of the marker dedication was announced, it’s prompted people to think about how remarkable the event was. We’ve had three times the amount of buses in July since last year.”

Arnold and her husband, Bill, president of the nonprofit Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation, have worked to establish a permanent reminder of the miracle that took place on their farm four years ago.

“It’s a really sweet reward,” Bill Arnold said. “It adds so much legitimacy and an authenticity to what we’ve been working for.”

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