June 11, 1995 in Nation/World

Lack Of Air Kills 2 Men In Old Mine Pair Apparently Were Trying To Explore Abandoned Lake Pend Oreille Limestone Mine

By The Spokesman-Review

FOR THE RECORD CORRECTION: The names of the victims who died in the abandoned mine Saturday are Stephen Novak, 28, Christopher Ost-Homstad, 22. Both names were misspelled Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Correction published on June 14, 1995.

Two men died Saturday during an afternoon adventure in an old mine on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille.

Stephan Novak, 28, of Seattle, and Chris Homstad, 22, set out to map an abandoned silver and limestone mine. They had no climbing gear and no breathing equipment. A lack of oxygen apparently overcame them 300 to 400 feet inside the mine.

Novak is the son of Eastern Washington University official and former Spokane city manager Terry Novak. The Novak family was on an outing on their houseboat, the Symphony No. 2. Homstad, of Minnesota, was with the Novaks.

Stephan Novak, whose birthday was Friday, had explored the mine four or five times before, Bonner County Sheriff’s deputies said. The mine’s location, just above a gravel beach eight miles across the lake from Bayview, Idaho, made it an easy target.

The smell of smoke was strong at the craggy opening of the shaft, a sign of past campfires in the mine, said Bonner County Sheriff’s Deputy John Black said. Going any distance into the mine meant the risk of running into bad air.

“It would be like standing right over the top of an open fire,” he said. “You can go in 20 to 30 yards and feel fine. Then, all of a sudden, you’re light-headed.”

While the mine’s terrain is generally flat, Black said there are hidden chutes and old internal slides that make it dangerous.

Bayview residents said there are at least six abandoned turn-of-thecentury silver mines on the east shore of the lake on U.S. Forest Service land. Most were closed before World War II, but they are regularly explored.

“It may be time to shut them down,” Black said.

Novak and Homstad entered the mine at 1:30 p.m., with flashlights, pens and paper. They were expected out by 2:45 p.m., said Kootenai County Sheriff’s marine deputy Eric Steppe. Family members apparently radioed for help when they didn’t return.

When officials arrived by boat - the only access to the site - in late afternoon, they found a separate party of four teenage males coming out of the mine coughing. The four left during the rescue operation.

Rescuers from Kootenai and Bonner counties went into the mine several times without finding any sign of the two men. Each time, they were beaten back by a lack of oxygen.

By early evening, officials and citizens were ferrying air tanks across the lake from Bayview. A Sunshine Mine rescue team arrived from Shoshone County to help.

A final team of rescuers entered the mine about 6 p.m., each wearing a one-hour tank of oxygen, climbing harnesses and hardhats equipped with headlamps. They scrambled 300 to 400 feet into the 10-foot-square mine shaft where they found the bodies, side-by-side.

The first body was brought out at 6:50 p.m., nearly six hours after the two had entered the mine. Family members watched from outside the houseboat.

After rescuers brought out Stephan Novak, his father and stepmother, Barbara, stood forehead-to-forehead, their arms around each other.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos

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