OURAY – A team of investigators from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has launched a fatality investigation into the accident that killed two miners at the Revenue-Virginius Mine near Ouray last week.
The entire investigative team, which is still being assembled, will number around a dozen MSHA officials, said Amy Louviere, a public information officer with MSHA’s Office of Public Affairs.
The accident investigation is still in the very early stages, and could take weeks or months to complete, Louviere said.
“They will interview miners and mine management, examine the physical site of the accident, check equipment and machinery for possible malfunction, and look for safety violations that may have contributed to the accident,” she said.
Montrose miner Nick Cappanno and shift supervisor Rick Williams of Durango died when they encountered fatal levels of carbon monoxide a mile and a half inside the historic Revenue-Virginius Mine on Sunday, Nov. 17.
MSHA has posted a public notice on its website asking all persons who may have any information regarding the cause or contributing factors of the accident to contact Mike Tromble, Lead Accident Investigator at 303/231-5465.
A preliminary report Tromble issued the day after the accident stated that Cappanno’s job title was Powderman Trainee, and that he was “walking toward old mine workings” when the accident occurred. Cappanno had worked at the Revenue-Virginius Mine for just five weeks, which was the sum total of his mining experience.
Rick Williams, Cappanno’s shift supervisor, had over 36 years of mining experience, according to Tromble’s report. He had worked at the Revenue-Virginius Mine for one year and 22 weeks, and died attempting to revive Cappanno.
Twenty other miners were hospitalized for CO exposure following an aborted attempt to rescue Cappanno and Williams. All have since been released and are reported to be recovering, according to Rory Williams, whose Denver-based Star Mine Operations took over the historic Revenue-Virginius Mine in 2011 in a bid to bring the mine back into production.
MSHA investigators will not answer questions from the media about the accident while their investigation is in progress. “Generally, we wait until a fatality investigation concludes, then release a detailed report that provides a determination of what caused the accident,” Louviere said.
MSHA is tasked with investigating every mining fatality in the nation. Cappanno’s and Williams’ deaths were the sixteenth and seventeenth such fatalities in 2013.
Star Mine had a total of 103 employees at the time of the two miners’ deaths, including 64 underground workers, 36 mill and prep workers and three others. Underground work at the mine is currently suspended, but sources say that surface and mill construction work has continued, even as the MSHA investigation gets underway. It is unclear whether the miners who have not gone back to work are still on the payroll. Williams did not return calls and emails from The Watch requesting comment.
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