?It Was Always Going To Be Nine For Nine?

Mark Schweiker's official Web site notes that he is the nation's only governor to hold office as a direct result of the September 11 terror attacks. He is now also a household name, known throughout the nation for his buoyant confidence during the tense, 77-hour operation to rescue nine miners trapped in Pennsylvania's flooded Quecreek mine.

Schweiker, sworn into office last October after Gov. Tom Ridge moved to Washington to head the Office of Homeland Security, became the public face of the town's painful vigil for those huddled in an air pocket 240 feet below the ground. Schweiker's optimistic "nine for nine" slogan—his hope that all the men would emerge alive—was adopted by local residents as a mantra during the three-day ordeal that ended as happily as the new governor had predicted.

Schweiker spoke to NEWSWEEK'S Arlene Getz about the rescue and his feelings about his own political future.

Mark Schweiker: You bet. Just yesterday I had the opportunity to go out to the hospital where five of the miners were and watched them head home. There was no more thrilling moment that when we were pulling [them] up in the cage. It was akin to watching my kids come into the world, in the sense that they were being born again. It was never to be forgotten.

Oh yes. It sums it up [that] they shared a pen and ripped up some cardboard [to write messages to their families] and put them into a bucket. The messages said they loved them all and were hoping to see them in heaven. That says something about their thoughtfulness—that even as the water was rising and they were beginning to gasp for air, they were mindful of the families. To the man, every one of those miners believes they were rescued twice. That moment when that pipe went through and they sent in that oxygen-rich air, they went from gasping to breathing. They believed that their last moments on the earth were then. Then they were saved again on Sunday when we brought them up.

I made that decision almost two falls ago.

Our kids are 14, 12 and 9, and [my wife] Kathy and I have another campaign of sorts to complete—raising them. It's pretty tough to be an active candidate for governor and raise $25 million and be front and center at home.

The position I'm in now represents the best of both worlds. I had the privilege of serving as governor and I'm looking forward to the peace and calm of my private life.

I don't have anything set up. I know I'll be back in the business world.

Yeah, that's not necessary. It's been a wonderful run, but I'm going to be finished on January 21. [There's] a group of fine candidates out there, and they've worked hard to get to that point. That ought to be respected.

I had the privilege of guiding and making some decisions, but there are a lot of people who ought to be recognized and will never be heralded. They deserve the attention. The guys that sunk the six-inch air pipe [to keep down the water level] on Thursday morning and through a combination of science and just a gut call on where to drop it—they're the brilliant ones that deserve some praise. They dropped it right into where [the miners] were sitting in that 48-inch tall chamber. There was a whole square mile area [the miners could have been in], and they sent it right in to where they were huddling. That is precision, and that is the action of a supremely talented group who knew a whole lot more than I did about how to go about it.

I got there Thursday about noon. And when [the rescuers] informed me about the need for bringing the sophisticated equipment, especially the compressor truck, and there was some expense, I said, 'Guys, don't waste your time calling me about expenditures like that. Deploy. Send in everything you've got. I'll be there later. Time is of the essence.' While people want to offer praise perhaps for me, it ought to be directed at the 200-member team.

I called it being properly confident. I knew what we were putting into action. We had the finest deep mine rescuers in the world with us. We had some of the most sophisticated high-powered equipment that you could bring in there. We probably had $6 million worth of equipment brought in there in under 48 hours. With the expertise, the equipment and just the determination of these rescuers, I felt confident. We just needed the Good Lord to come through and make sure those guys didn't move around too much in there.

They're a tough group of people. They watch their husbands go off into the mines—in the mining world they call it endless nights, they start their working day before the sun comes up and they end their work day when the sun goes down. That makes the miners and their families tough, gritty people. They certainly were suffering emotionally, but I thought it was my job to let them know it was always going to be nine for nine. I think that was helpful to the families.

Were the events of September 11 in the back of your mind as you waited?

Yes. It was an incredible turn of events that it was 10 miles from where [hijacked] Flight 93 went down. We didn't get a chance to save those people.

I spent the morning with the families yesterday; I started the investigation [into the flooded mine] yesterday—I have a geo-environmental scientist from Penn State University who knows mine safety. I promised the families that by the end of the first work day on Monday that the investigation would be under way. I got a chance to see [my] family last night. I'm going to be with Jay Leno tonight.

Tom and I talk regularly. We're not just political associates, we're very close friends. We talk all the time.

At times I feel like I'm having the better time of it.

I had to buy a shirt in an outlet [store] there. My wife's going to shoot me for saying this, but she said to me in one phone call: 'do you know that people know you're wearing the same stuff every day?' Because I had no idea this had become a global story. So I went out and I picked up another denim shirt.