April 16, 2011 in Idaho, News

Missing Lucky Friday miner identified

His brother escaped the cave-in
By and The Spokesman-Review
Kathy Plonka photo

Mullan resident, Nancy Johansen, listens to the press conference at Mullan City Hall in Mullan, Idaho on Saturday, April 16, 2011, after an accident at The Lucky Friday Mine on Friday. One miner is still trapped.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Map of this story's location
The last major Silver Valley mining accident occurred last June when Tim Bush was killed by rock fall. Bush, 29, was a contract employee working for United Mine Services at U.S. Silver Corp.’s Galena Mine near Silverton, Idaho when he was hit by a falling slab of rock. He was a standout athlete at Kellogg High School and an All-America football player for the University of Montana Grizzlies. In 2001 two miners were killed in a midday rock bust at the Galena Mine, which then was owned by Coeur d’Alene Mines.

MULLAN, ID - Community members and media accounts have confirmed the identity of the miner trapped more than a mile underground at the Lucky Friday Mine.

Larry “Pete” Marek, a longtime Silver Valley miner, has been the subject of an intense rescue effort since a collapse at the mine Friday evening.

Company officials continued to call their efforts a rescue operation nearly 24 hours after the roof of a tunnel where the miner was extracting silver-bearing ore collapsed.

“We’re doing everything we can to reach the employee,” said Phillips Baker, Hecla’s chief executive officer. “Our current focus in 100 percent on the rescue of the employee and to ensure the safety of the rescue team.”

Miners and community members huddled in groups to share information about the accident and rescue efforts. Others formed prayer circles. Many feared the miner was buried. There has been no contact.

Section of the roof about 20 feet wide and 10 feet deep caved into the stope at the 6,150 foot level.

A second miner, Marek’s brother, was in the area and escaped injury.

Rescuers had cleared 25 feet of debris, but had their progress slowed for safety reasons.

Baker estimated that there was at least another 50 feet of rock that needed to be cleared to reach Marek.

Baker said company officials are in close contact with Marek’s family and will be providing support and counseling as needed to family members and mine employees.

Located in the Bitterroot Mountains, the Lucky Friday is one of North America’s deepest hard-rock mines. And it’s getting much deeper. Hecla Mining is sinking a new shaft to depths of nearly 9,000 feet. The $200 million expansion of the mine will allow the company to go after richer veins of silver deposits.

The headframe of the 59-year-old mine is visible from Interstate 90 near Lookout Pass.

The mine employs about 275 workers and 100 contractors.

About 170 of the miners are unionized with the United Steelworkers of America.

Miner Jerry Hagaman, who serves on the mine’s safety committee, said the accident is a shocker to the employees.

“Hecla runs an extremely safe mine,” he said. “But right now our thoughts are with the family.”

Officials from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration were on site as the rescue operation unfolded.

The company has not yet started its accident investigation, Baker said, and won’t until the miner is found.

Hecla has chartered a plane to fly in remote controlled equipment to help them move through the debris. They expect the equipment to land in Coeur d’Alene tonight, and will haul it to Mullan.

Progress had slowed Saturday afternoon because rescue teams had to secure overhead rock. Three rescue teams have been working around the clock.

Hecla also has an Alaskan mine and additional mining properties in Mexico and Colorado

Watch for continuing updates on this story throughout the day and for complete coverage on KHQ News and in Sunday’s edition of The Spokesman-Review.

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