"You're always hoping for that miracle," he said, his voice trailing off after adding, "but when you have an explosion of this magnitude ... "
His public gaffe is seared in the memories of people who live outside of West Virginia, but his constituents didn't hold it against him. Manchin-as-empathizer may be the image that lingers longest in the minds of West Virginians, who returned him to office in 2008 with the largest share of the vote by any gubernatorial candidate at least in modern times.
"Despite the terrible tragedy of mistaken information at Sago, in the end it was positive for Manchin because of his direct attempts to deal with it," said Robert Rupp, a political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Sago families said in 2006 they didn't blame Manchin for sharing their mistaken jubilation, and John Groves, whose brother Jerry died at that mine, understands why the governor has taken a more measured tone this time.
"This brings everything back to if Sago just happened, all the anger and sadness all over again," Groves said.
For Manchin, mining tragedies are personal. In 1968, his uncle was among 77 miners killed in a blast at a mine in the governor's Farmington hometown.
"I've been on both sides of the table," he told The Associated Press. "I've been hanging on every word. I've been hanging on every minute waiting for news."
AP writer Tom Breen contributed to this report.