The families of two men who died in an abandoned North Idaho mine last year have filed separate $1.5 million claims against the U.S. Forest Service.
Terry Novak, father of one of the victims, confirmed Tuesday that the claims were filed last week because of the deaths and because of the hazards posed by the dilapidated mines. Novak, former Spokane city manager, directed all other questions to the families’ attorney.
Spokane attorney Ed Johnson could not be reached.
The deaths prompted the Forest Service to speed up its planned closure of some of the estimated 1,000 abandoned mines in North Idaho.
Forest Service officials at Region One headquarters in Missoula, Tuesday said they received the claims, but wouldn’t say anything else about the matter.
Stephen Novak, 28, and friend Christopher Ost-Homstad, 22, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the Vulcan Mine, near Bayview, in June 1995, the day after Novak’s birthday. The pair were enjoying a cruise on Lake Pend Oreille with Novak’s family and were planning to map the inactive limestone and silver mine.
They were overcome about 400 feet inside the shaft and died. Four other young explorers were nearly asphyxiated after going into the mine looking for the men at the request of their families.
Other rescuers equipped with breathing equipment found the bodies several hours later. Mine experts estimated that carbon monoxide levels were so high that a person would have died within 15 minutes of entering the shaft.
The mine is one of the estimated 1,000 inactive lead and silver mines on Forest Service land dating back more than 70 years in North Idaho. The Forest Service immediately sealed the Vulcan Mine with metal bars.
Bars went up at the entrance of eight additional mines and dynamite blasted two more closed during the summer of 1995. Most were in the Clark Fork area.
The Idaho Geological Survey then was commissioned to search for additional mines on Forest Service land. The most dangerous would be closed, the Forest Service said shortly after the deaths.
Information on the number of mines identified and closed since the accident was not available.
The mines are dangerous because of toxic gases, and unstable walls and ceilings. Sometimes old explosives remain tucked in the tunnels and passages. The old shafts also are popular with amateur explorers and teenage partiers.
Attempts to close the mines don’t always work. People sometimes cut the chains on gates or dig holes around the bars in order to get into the mines, the Forest Service said.