April 21, 2011 in City, Idaho

Camera shows no sign of miner

Drill holes let air in as ‘fact-finding’ goes on
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Teams above, below ground

About 50 Hecla Mining employees are involved in rescue efforts, said Melanie Hennessey, the company’s director of investor relations. Two underground crews are working in alternating 12-hour shifts. Above-ground support teams are part of the effort. The teams involve Hecla’s most experienced workers, Hennessey said.

Day six of rescue efforts at the Lucky Friday Mine passed without any word on the fate of a miner trapped by a rockfall.

Rescue workers were able to insert a video camera used by plumbers through a 180-foot-long drill hole to Larry “Pete” Marek’s work area. The tiny camera revealed a space amid the boulders and other debris that fell Friday night during a cave-in at the Mullan, Idaho, silver mine. But so far, the camera hasn’t captured any images of Marek.

No sounds from the blocked-off area could be detected through the hole, either.

“All we could see was an opening,” said Kevin Hirsch, assistant director of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. “There has been no contact with the miner.”

Rescue crews have been working around the clock to reach Marek.

Hecla Mining Co. pumped fresh air through two completed drill holes Tuesday and started drilling a third hole. Additional two-inch diameter holes will be drilled to provide portals to the area where Marek is trapped, said Stefany Bales, a Hecla spokeswoman.

“We’re on a fact-finding mission,” Bales said. “We know how high (the rock pile) is; we know how wide it is; what we don’t know is how long it is.”

Detecting the opening with the camera was good news for rescue crews, though they don’t yet know how large it is, or if other openings exist.

If Marek survived the rockfall, he might have the air and water he needs to stay alive through the hoses attached to his hydraulic drill, longtime Silver Valley miners said this week.

Marek and his brother, who is his mining partner, were spraying down their work area with water to cool the rock and control dust when part of the roof fell in. His brother escaped unharmed.

The SeeSnake brand camera is on loan from Roto-Rooter in Spokane. Designed to detect clogs and leaks, plumbers’ video cameras were used to find survivors of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, said Ray Mallory, Roto-Rooter’s manager.

“We normally use it for inspecting storm and water drains,” Mallory said. “It’s on loan as long as they need it.”

A Roto-Rooter employee delivered the camera to the Lucky Friday Mine and trained rescue team members in how to use it.

The camera is equipped with lights and a monitor that displays images. Rescue workers have captured images of an opening near the rock face at the end of Marek’s work area but have not been able to determine its size.

“We’re having a hard time depicting what we’re seeing,” said Hirsch, noting that rescue workers are still getting proficient with the camera.

Hecla’s earlier efforts to reach Marek directly by removing the rock pile with heavy equipment were stymied by unstable overhead rock. After that operation was shut down by federal mine safety officials, Hecla began excavating a 220-foot-long drift to Marek’s work area from another part of the mine.

The excavation, done with jumbo drills and blasting, had progressed 54 feet by Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re making very good progress,” said Hirsch, who expected the excavation to progress about 30 feet every 24 hours.

“The company is working diligently to make sure that they’re coming up with every plan possible and at the same time MSHA is making sure that everyone is doing it safely,” he said.


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