A 49-year-old miner died after falling 250 feet at the Coeur mine near Osburn, Idaho, investigators said Monday.
Federal investigators said Monday they suspect a sudden break in a sand line caused Kenneth A. Miller to tumble over a ledge to his death.
“I just never thought, after all those years, that anything would happen,” said Miller’s widow, Patricia Turner. “I think it was just a freak accident and it was his time.”
Miller, a longtime North Idaho resident, spent more than 20 years working in the Galena mine before he started working in its sister mine - the Coeur - this summer.
“Ken was a well-experienced miner and he was well-liked by his fellow employees,” said Larry Nelson, spokesman for Silver Valley Resources Corp., which operates the Coeur and Galena mines.
It’s the first time in 11 years anyone has died in the Coeur mine that began operation in the 1970s. Mining stopped there in 1991 but resumed this spring.
A sand line is used to put sand or tailings back into the mine to replace rock that has been removed during the mining operation. The pipe carries a wet slurry mix to the needed location.
Thursday evening the sand line in the Coeur became clogged, said Fred Hansen of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Miller was trying to find the clog about 10 p.m. when he fell from an incline that allows miners to move from one level of the operation to the next.
He died at the scene, Hansen said.
It appears Miller may have been unclamping one section of pipe from another, Hansen said. He was unsure whether the pipe, which would have been under high pressure, exploded or fell apart.
“The line came apart and there must have been enough movement that it caused him to lose his footing and he fell,” Hansen said.
But, “That is speculation,” Nelson said.
A formal report will not be available for about a month.
The last Silver Valley mining fatality happened in 1994 when a rock burst killed a miner at the Sunshine Mine, Hansen said. A rock burst occurs when pressure underground causes rock walls to explode. In 1985 a Coeur miner also died in a rock burst.
Miller lived in North Idaho on and off since he was 3 years old. He served in the U.S. Army and spent 22 years as a miner at Galena until its closure.
In the mid-1980s, Miller survived a blast of air and debris at the Galena that left him with 150 stitches in his face, his wife said.
“He was such a jewel,” Turner said Monday, describing how her husband loved to golf, fish and hunt. “We just did everything together - wherever he went, I went. I enjoyed spoiling him.”
Funeral services for Miller will be today at 1 p.m. at the Coeur d’Alene Memorial Funeral Home.
, DataTimes MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: Miner dies in fall at Coeur mine