Miners trapped underground in Sudbury recovered in rescue operation


A total of 39 miners were trapped below in a Sudbury copper and nickel mine on Sunday afternoon. Parts of a bucket tram reportedly damaged the elevator shaft as it descended into Vale SA’s Totten mine.

Gino Donato / The Canadian Press

The Ontario Ministry of Labor will investigate the Sudbury mine where 39 workers were trapped underground after a piece of equipment damaged an elevator shaft, forcing workers to climb ladders about a mile to reach the surface.

The province said a ministry team, including experts in safety inspections and engineering, will check for violations of mining regulations and the Occupational Health and Safety Act once mine rescue activities are completed.

The copper and nickel mining saga began on Sunday afternoon, when parts of a bucket tram – heavy equipment similar to a front loader used to transport ore – were lowered into the Totten mine in Vale HER. The company said in an email that the load had come loose from the sling and “caught” in the shaft, blocking the main exit of the mine. When it became clear that access to the well could not be restored, workers resorted to the emergency exit via a route of ladders and rest platforms.

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In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Vale said 35 of the 39 workers were out; the company said it will provide further updates when everyone is above ground.

The incident near the northern Ontario town caught the attention of locals and beyond; although no one has been hurt so far, some of the workers have been stuck in the depths of the earth for two full days.

“I’m happy to be out for sure,” said Henry Bertrand, one of the first miners to reach the surface on Tuesday morning. “It’s a hike. It’s hard on the arms. Mr Bertrand said workers stay positive by making jokes and staying in touch with loved ones over the phone. They spent the time in refuge stations, where they had access to food, water and medicine. “It wasn’t a collapse or anything like that,” he said. “No one was in danger.”

Mr. Bertrand was with a small group working about 650 meters underground. It took him a little over two hours to make the ascent. A larger group of miners were about 960 meters below the surface, he said. “A few of the gentlemen over there have health issues and everything, so they’ll need help to come,” he said Tuesday morning.

Support and supervision was provided by a team of 58 responders from the Vale Mine Rescue Team and Sudbury’s Ontario Mine Rescue, an organization that maintains a network of mine rescue stations across the province. Vale said health checks were carried out on workers at predetermined locations during their ascent and to the surface.

A spokesperson for United Steelworkers, which represents 30 of the 39 affected miners, called the rescue “slow,” in large part because getting out of the mine is physically difficult. “You have to hang in there, go up one rung at a time and stand up,” Myles Sullivan said.

Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger said he had not visited the Totten mine, but had gone underground in similar operations. “The image of a dirty coal mine is nothing like the mines of today,” he said, noting that there is usually sufficient lighting and “a lot of very high and open areas. “.

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Mr Bigger said he received updates about hourly from the company during the rescue operation. Since the Sudbury-area mining industry directly and indirectly employs 20,000 people, he said, many residents have a personal connection to the area. “We will all breathe a sigh of relief when everyone is healthy and in good spirits above the surface,” he said Tuesday afternoon, with four miners still underground.

The history of the Totten Mine, located about 40 kilometers southwest of Sudbury, dates back to the sinking of the shaft in the 1960s. In 1976, it was allowed to fill with water and remained inundated for decades. .

Brazilian company Vale, one of the world’s largest producers of iron ore and nickel, acquired the mine with its $ 18.2 billion purchase of Inco Ltd. in 2006. It spent over $ 700 million to get the mine back into production. Opened in 2014, it became the company’s first new mine in the Sudbury Basin in four decades. The mine employed 200 people at the time, and Vale estimated it would have a lifespan of 20 years. The site produced 3,600 tonnes of finished nickel during the first half of 2021.

It is not known when the mine will resume full operations after Sunday’s incident. “It is premature to discuss a return to production,” the company said in an email.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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