April 26, 2011 in Idaho

Probe of mine cave-in begins

Governor calls death of Idaho miner ‘a tragic loss’
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Safety record

The Lucky Friday Mine underwent a quarterly safety inspection in March. Federal inspectors found eight relatively minor violations, including four issued to Hecla and four to a contractor, Cementation USA Inc. Hecla was fined $873. No recent violations related to roof falls at the Lucky Friday are on file with the Mine Safety and Health Administration. However, separately filed accident reports show that the Lucky Friday has reported 12 roof falls since January 2008; workers reported injuries in three of those accidents.

Federal investigators began searching Monday for answers in the April 15 cave-in that claimed the life of a Lucky Friday miner.

“No miner should ever have to die for a paycheck,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in a prepared statement announcing the investigation. The family of Larry “Pete” Marek “deserves to have answers.”

Rescue teams recovered Marek’s body from the underground silver mine on Sunday afternoon, nine days after the roof in his work area collapsed. Marek, 53, appears to have died during the initial cave-in. An investigation into the cause of the collapse had been on hold until Marek was located.

Solis offered condolences to Marek’s family, friends and co-workers. And she praised the round-the-clock efforts of the rescue team, which included dozens of Hecla Mining Co. employees, emergency personnel and state and federal officials.

They deserve “the utmost gratitude for their efforts to find Larry and return him to his family,” Solis said.

Gov. Butch Otter also sent an expression of sympathy. Marek’s death “is a tragic loss for Idaho’s historic mining community, and a personal loss for family and friends,” he said in a statement “It also is a stark reminder of the harsh realities that generations of mining families have proudly faced as they made their lives and their livelihoods in the Silver Valley.”

Marek’s death is the first fatality at the Lucky Friday since 1986.

The accident investigation is being conducted by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, which already has officials at the Lucky Friday. Jesse Lawder, an MSHA spokesman, confirmed Monday that the investigation was under way, but could not provide additional information about how many investigators were on the scene or what the investigation would entail.

Hecla will cooperate fully with the federal investigators, said Stefany Bales, a company spokeswoman.

The Lucky Friday Mine has been closed since the accident. Bales said company officials are in the “planning stages” for restarting production at the Mullan, Idaho, mine, but don’t have a definite re-opening date. About 275 Hecla employees and 100 contractors work at the mine.

Marek and his brother, Mike, had just finished spraying down ore and rock piles in their work area on the evening of April 15 when the roof came down. Mike Marek escaped unharmed.

Officials weren’t sure how far the debris from the collapse had extended, and had held out hope Larry Marek might be alive but trapped behind a massive rock pile. But a probe of his work area on Saturday indicated that the entire area collapsed, leaving no place for him to take refuge.

Marek’s funeral arrangements are pending at Shoshone Funeral Services in Kellogg.


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