The body of Lucky Friday miner Larry “Pete” Marek was recovered Sunday afternoon, just hours after Hecla Mining Co. announced it had suspended rescue efforts because he likely had died in the April 15 collapse.
The Coeur d’Alene company had been working 24 hours a day since the collapse trying to reach Marek in hopes he survived the cave-in and was trapped behind a massive rock pile. Weekend probes of the area indicated that was unlikely, though, and the rescue effort became a recovery operation.
The company announced at 7 p.m. that the 53-year-old’s body had been recovered.
“We’ve been hoping for a miracle for more than a week,” Hecla CEO Phil Baker said in a videotaped message on the company website. “Words cannot express the deep sorrow we feel at the tragic loss of Larry. Larry’s from a large family, a mining family, a family here in the Silver Valley.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the courage of his family and friends, the support of the community, the prayers and messages of support from people from around the world.”
Mining operations were halted after the tunnel where Marek was working with his brother, Mike, collapsed. Mike Marek escaped.
“He’s a hell of a good guy,” one rescue worker said of Larry Marek, just before leaving the mine Sunday afternoon.
Baker said the rescue crews displayed “superhuman effort” and “tireless dedication” in finding Marek and that the most frequent question he heard from other employees was “How can I help?” Baker said the mine has been operating for 69 years and it has been more than 25 years and “8 million man-hours” since the last fatality.
“Our view of safety is that we should never have one,” Baker said, adding that now Hecla’s efforts will turn to investigating how and why the collapse occurred 6,150 feet below ground.
Marek’s family, who had remained on site at the mine during the search, departed Saturday night, said Stefany Bales, a Hecla spokeswoman. The company, citing requests from Marek’s family, has repeatedly asked the media to avoid contacting them. Hundreds of messages from people nationwide have filled a Facebook page devoted to Marek since the rescue efforts began.
Rescue crews on Saturday had advanced 184 feet into a 220-foot tunnel in their attempt to reach Marek. When they drilled holes from that location to determine the condition inside the space where Marek had been working, they encountered only rubble and no open space, a company news release said.
Marek had worked for Hecla for a dozen years and at the Sunshine Mine before that. One former supervisor at Sunshine, Don Capparelli, said last week that Marek was a “real pro” who could cut the silver vein out of rock like he was slicing it with a knife.
“He was without a doubt my best employee,” Capparelli said last week.
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