Labor secretary vows probe into Idaho miner death

AP News
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Posted: Apr 25, 2011 2:27 PM
Labor secretary vows probe into Idaho miner death

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis on Monday promised a thorough investigation into the death of an Idaho silver miner whose body was recovered from the Lucky Friday Mine nine days after a ceiling collapse more than a mile under the surface.

The body of Larry Marek, 53, was found on Easter Sunday, and it appeared he died during the initial cave-in.

"After more than a week of valiant round-the-clock efforts to locate him, rescue workers made the tragic discovery on Sunday that he had not survived the April 15th roof fall at Lucky Friday Mine," Solis, whose agency oversees mine safety, said in a press release.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration will investigate the cause of the ceiling collapse at the mine, which is located near Mullan, Idaho. Hecla Mining Co. also will investigate the cause.

"Larry's family deserves to have answers," Solis said. "No miner should ever have to die for a paycheck."

Marek's family has not publicly commented since the cave-in.

A friend told KXLY-TV of Spokane that men like Marek risk their lives each day to extract natural resources that people take for granted.

"Larry was an excellent guy," said Dale Robinson, a high school classmate of Marek. "He was a family man. He was a great sports person, hunter, fisherman. Just an all-around wonderful gentleman."

Rescue crews worked round-the-clock since the cave-in, drilling rescue tunnels toward Marek's last reported position in hopes he had been trapped in an area where the ceiling did not collapse. The family was informed late Saturday that the rescue effort had changed to a body recovery effort.

"Words cannot express the deep sorrow we feel at the tragic loss of our friend, colleague and 30-year veteran of the mining industry. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, loved ones and friends," a Hecla Mining Co. statement said.

Mining at the Lucky Friday involves drilling holes in a rock face, blasting it to rubble, and then carting the debris to the surface to be processed into silver, lead and zinc. Miners often work more than a mile underground.

Despite the harsh conditions, this is the mine's first fatality since 1986.

The mine has been shut down since the cave-in, and Hecla did not say when it would resume production.

Marek, a 12-year company employee, and his brother, Mike, had just finished watering down blasted-out rock and ore April 15 in the mine in the Idaho Panhandle when a portion of the ceiling of a 6,150-foot deep tunnel collapsed. Mike Marek escaped unharmed.

Rescuers worked on the hope that not all of the 75-foot section of tunnel collapsed and the missing miner had perhaps survived in an open space.

They first attempted to dig through the collapsed tunnel, but had to quit because of dangerous conditions. They dug a second intersecting tunnel, an effort that was slowed as crews encountered increasingly difficult obstacles.

Small drill holes sent forward Saturday to probe conditions at the end of the collapsed tunnel found only sand and rubble. Officials said that indicated the entire tunnel collapsed, leaving no space in which the miner might have found refuge.

The mine employs about 275 workers, about 50 of whom were underground in various parts of the mine when the collapse occurred.