Trapped Idaho miner found dead

/ Source: The Associated Press

Workers at a northern Idaho silver mine have recovered the body of a miner who was trapped when a tunnel collapsed nine days ago, the mine's operator said Sunday.

The body of Larry Marek, 53, was discovered Sunday afternoon, Hecla Mining Co. said in a news release.

"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," the statement said.

The announcement follows more than a week of efforts to reach Marek, who was caught in the cave-in more than a mile underground. By Sunday, officials had determined he could not have survived.

"Based on crew observations of the area where the fall of ground occurred and crewmember experience in similar situations, we believe Larry is deceased," company spokeswoman Stefany Bales said earlier Sunday as she announced the rescue mission had become a recovery operation.

Marek's family had been told of the change late Saturday. The family has not spoken with reporters since the cave-in, and they asked for privacy in the statement announcing that Marek's body had been found.

Marek and his brother, Mike, had just finished watering down blasted-out rock and ore in the mine when the ceiling collapsed in the 6,150-foot deep tunnel. Mike Marek escaped unharmed.

Rescue efforts included an attempt to dig through the collapsed tunnel and building a second intersecting tunnel, but the first effort was stopped by dangerous conditions and work on the second tunnel slowed as crews encountered increasingly difficult conditions that required a special tunneling technique to prevent the new tunnel from collapsing.

Then drill holes sent forward Saturday to probe conditions at the end of the tunnel — where they hoped to find an open area where Marek was working — found only sand and rubble. Officials said that indicated the entire tunnel collapsed leaving no space in which the miner might have found refuge.

No cause has been established for the cave-in.

"Once the recovery effort is complete we'll begin an in-depth investigation to discover how and why this happened, and what we can do to prevent it from ever happening again," Hecla President Phil Baker said in a video posted Sunday on Hecla's website.

Company spokeswoman Melanie Hennessey said the last fatality at the mine occurred in 1986.

Hecla is the largest silver producer in the nation, from the Lucky Friday and the Greens Creek mine in Alaska.