He was brought out of the darkness of the Sago Mine in the middle of the night, comatose and battered ”” and straight into the unyielding glare of unwanted fame.
But today, nearing the anniversary of the Jan. 2 explosion and 41-hour entrapment that killed 12 of his friends, Randal McCloy Jr. is keeping a low profile.
The 27-year-old survivor of West Virginia’s worst mining accident in four decades can walk and talk again, but neither he nor pregnant wife Anna is granting interviews, says family spokeswoman Aly Goodwin Gregg. His family has also closed ranks, on doctors’ advice.
“They just don’t think it would be good for him,” Gregg says. “I think he’s coping. … but as we get closer to the first anniversary, it’s very difficult. And it’s very difficult for Anna because she has to be stronger for him.”
The explosion inside the coal mine near Buckhannon killed one member of the 13-man crew instantly. McCloy and 11 others were trapped underground by smoke and debris, breathing carbon monoxide for nearly two days before rescue teams reached them.
Doctors have never been able to explain how McCloy survived when others could not, but he has defied their expectations at every turn.
He overcame damage to his heart, liver, kidneys and brain. He learned to think again, and then to speak. When he was ready, he told the other families how his crew had waited for help, then prayed when they realized it wasn’t coming.
“He’s told his version of what happened,” Gregg says. “He’s met his obligation to honor the memory of the men who perished by sharing their story.”
Now he’s focused on his own healing.
McCloy still suffers some vision and hearing impairment, as well as continuing weakness on the right side. He completed physical therapy at a rehabilitation center over the summer and now strength-trains at home. He also meets twice a week with a therapist to deal with the emotional trauma.
Though he’s constantly growing stronger, Gregg says, “There’s no finish line. There’s no goal.”
“What was normal, will that ever be normal again? We don’t know.”