Investigation faults unsafe conditions for Idaho miner's death

Dec 5, 2011
Originally published on December 3, 2011 7:51 am

SPOKANE, Wash. - The death of a north Idaho miner occurred last April because of safety failures on the part of the mine's owner. That's the conclusion of a federal investigation released Friday. Larry Marek was working about a mile underground at the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan , Idaho when 70 feet of rock above him collapsed.

Marek was working in a tunnel or "stope" that was at the base of intersecting silver veins. And about an hour after he arrived at work on the afternoon of April 15, the disconnected wedge of rock between the veins came down.

Investigators say management of the Lucky Friday "failed to design, install, and maintain a support system" that would have kept miners safe in that kind of situation. Further, they say, the company wasn't following its own ground support plan.

But owners of the Lucky Friday counter that. In a press conference in Spokane, Hecla Mining president Phil Baker said the company couldn't have known in advance the particular geology Marek was working in would lead to a collapse.

Phil Baker: "When I read the report, I don't see anything that would suggest that Hecla has operated in anything less than a prudent manner."

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration will next issue penalties for violations associated with Marek's death. Baker says, in total, the fines could approach a million dollars.

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

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