19 of 39 miners stuck underground in Sudbury, Ont., retrieved in rescue operation

Sudbury –

A rescue operation underway for 39 people stuck underground at Vale’s Totten Mine in Sudbury, Ont., has successfully retrieved 19 miners. 

“The remaining employees are expected to be on surface later this morning. The employees that have returned to surface are in good health and eager to return home,” Vale said in a news release at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Nick Larochelle, president of Steelworkers Local 6500, told CTV News’ Lyndsay Aelick that 39 people, including 30 Steelworkers, had been stuck underground since Sunday.

Larochelle said the miners went underground Sunday at 7 a.m. to begin their shifts. At 11:30 a.m., an incident occurred that caused damage to the shaft.

By Monday evening, he said the miners had started to make their way to the surface between 7 and 8 p.m. By 9 p.m., he said some of the miners were halfway to the surface, while the rest of the group would take longer to get to the surface because they need extra assistance from mine rescue personnel. The rescue effort is being supported by the Vale and Ontario mine rescue teams. 

Shawn Rideout, of Ontario Mine Rescue, told CTV News how the workers will be rescued. The workers are in areas between the 4,000 and 3,000-foot levels.

“What we’re going to do is we’re going to get the workers to travel to the 3,150 level and then we’re going (bring) them to surface using rope rescue equipment,” Rideout said.

While some miners will be able to climb ladders, workers who are older or exhausted from the ordeal will be pulled up using ropes.

“We’re going to haul them out using ropes,” Rideout said. “So that’s something that we train for all the time in Ontario Mine Rescue. It’s the safest possible way to make sure all 39 come to surface in as good a shape as they were when they went down Sunday morning.”

Regardless of whether they are pulled up or climb the ladders, he said all the workers will be secured to ropes to ensure they don’t fall.

“You know, they’ve been underground for almost 36 hours now, (and some) who are not physically capable to make the … climb, we will use ropes to hoist them up, level by level,” Rideout said. 

“We thank the impacted employees for their patience and perseverance and the mine rescue teams for their tireless dedication and support,” said Gord Gilpin, Head of Mining Operations for Vale’s Ontario Operations. “This has been an incredible team effort,” Gord Gilpin, head of Vale’s Ontario mining operations, said in a news release Tuesday morning.

Larochelle said medication and food had been sent to the miners but added he is very concerned for the employees.

The wife of one of the trapped miners, Sharon Domik, said reports the miners have been fed have been exaggerated.

“The truth of the matter is the fact they received a bag of chocolate bars/energy bars,” Domik said in a message to CTV News.

“That is not a healthy, well-balanced meal to provide energy to those men who have to climb up 3,100 feet to safety. I am very concerned.”

Vale spokesperson Danica Pagnutti told CTV News miners became trapped when the elevator that carries them in and out of the mine was damaged.

“There’s a conveyance system, or what’s commonly known as a cage, that carries both employees on one level,” Pagnutti said. “And then often below that elevator or conveyance system, we sling equipment and materials underneath it, and we had a large piece of equipment slung underneath the conveyance system and it dislodged, causing damage to the shaft and making the conveyance system inoperable.”

She was optimistic the miners would be on the surface soon.

“The process has been ongoing all day and we expect them to be on surface this evening. So it shouldn’t be too much longer now,” Pagnutti said.

And in a news release, Vale said the workers are “mobilizing to exit the underground mine after the conveyance for transporting employees was taken offline, following an incident in the shaft.”

“The employees will exit via a secondary egress ladder system with support of Vale’s mine rescue team,” the release said.

“The incident occurred Sunday afternoon. The employees were underground at the time and immediately went to refuge stations as part of our normal procedures, and we have been in frequent communication with them since the incident.”

The company said they are doing everything they can “to ensure the safety of these employees and will provide further updates as they become available.”

Situated in Worthington, 40 kilometres west of Vale’s Copper Cliff complex, Totten Mine opened in 2014 and employs about 200 people, according to Vale’s website.

The northern Ontario mine produces copper, nickel and other precious metals. The main shaft of the mine is 4,130 feet below the surface.

This story will be updated as soon as we have more information.

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