Shift Boss Died Attempting to Rescue Miner In Revenue-Virginius Tragedy
by Samantha Wright
Nov 19, 2013 | 58100 views | 1 1 comments | 82 82 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MULTI-AGENCY RESPONSE – Flanked by members of the multi-agency response team that handled Sunday’s fatal accident at the Revenue-Virginius Mine, Star Mine Manager Rory Williams fielded questions from journalists at a press conference at the Ouray Community Center Sunday night. From left: Ouray City Administrator Mike Fedel, Ouray Board of County Commissioners Chair Mike Fedel, Ouray County Emergency Medical Services Chief Paramedic Kim Mitchell, Ouray County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd, James Williams and Rory Williams of Star Mine, Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi, Ouray Police Chief Justin Perry, and Undersheriff Joel Burke. (Photo by William Woody, Watchnewspapers.com)
MULTI-AGENCY RESPONSE – Flanked by members of the multi-agency response team that handled Sunday’s fatal accident at the Revenue-Virginius Mine, Star Mine Manager Rory Williams fielded questions from journalists at a press conference at the Ouray Community Center Sunday night. From left: Ouray City Administrator Mike Fedel, Ouray Board of County Commissioners Chair Mike Fedel, Ouray County Emergency Medical Services Chief Paramedic Kim Mitchell, Ouray County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd, James Williams and Rory Williams of Star Mine, Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi, Ouray Police Chief Justin Perry, and Undersheriff Joel Burke. (Photo by William Woody, Watchnewspapers.com)
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OURAY residents Nancy and Phil Wolkin listened to the news of two fallen miners during a press conference Sunday night at the Ouray City Offices. (Photo by William Woody, Watchnewspapers.com)
OURAY residents Nancy and Phil Wolkin listened to the news of two fallen miners during a press conference Sunday night at the Ouray City Offices. (Photo by William Woody, Watchnewspapers.com)
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OURAY TRAGEDY - Ambulances and emergency personnel prepared to travel to the Revenue-Virginius Mine to collect the bodies of two miners who died in an accident that occurred shortly after shift change, early Sunday morning. (Photo by Samantha Wright, Watchnewspapers.com)
OURAY TRAGEDY - Ambulances and emergency personnel prepared to travel to the Revenue-Virginius Mine to collect the bodies of two miners who died in an accident that occurred shortly after shift change, early Sunday morning. (Photo by Samantha Wright, Watchnewspapers.com)
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EMERGENCY RESPONSE - Montrose emergency services staged at Montrose Memorial Hospital this morning in response to a mining accident in Ouray county. (Photo by William Woody, Watchnewspapers.com)
EMERGENCY RESPONSE - Montrose emergency services staged at Montrose Memorial Hospital this morning in response to a mining accident in Ouray county. (Photo by William Woody, Watchnewspapers.com)
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IN THE BIN - Ouray native Doug Gregory, employed with the surface crew at the Revenue-Virginius Mine, pondered his next move in the "fire ore bin" earlier this summer before concrete was poured.  (Courtesy photo)
IN THE BIN - Ouray native Doug Gregory, employed with the surface crew at the Revenue-Virginius Mine, pondered his next move in the "fire ore bin" earlier this summer before concrete was poured. (Courtesy photo)
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OURAY – A report released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration on Monday, Nov. 18 sheds light on the fatal accident that killed two miners at the Revenue-Virginius Mine early Sunday morning and injured 20 of their fellow miners.  

MSHA’s preliminary information indicates that a miner entered an area of the mine where an explosive had been previously detonated that was contaminated with lethal levels of carbon monoxide. 

“When he did not emerge, the shift foreman went in search of him,” the report said. “Eventually they were both found by other miners working in the area, and those miners immediately evacuated the mine.”

The 20 evacuated miners were taken to regional hospitals and treated for varying levels of carbon monoxide exposure. All have since been released. 

Mine rescue teams arrived on site after the Sunday morning accident and recovered the bodies of fallen miners Nick Cappanno of Montrose and Rick Williams of Durango. Fatal levels of carbon monoxide were detected in the area where their bodies were found. Autopsy results are pending, but the Ouray County Coroner’s preliminary report confirms that the cause of death for both men was carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Cappanno, 33, had only been working at the mine for a few weeks, and had no prior mining experience. Williams, 59, lived in Silverton for much of his life, and was an experienced professional miner. He began working at the Revenue-Virginius about a year and a half ago, according to his wife Judy, and was recently promoted to shift boss. 

Investigators with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration are now working to piece together events that led to the two men’s deaths.

As part of the investigation, MSHA has required mine operator Star Mine to submit a plan for rescue teams to safely re-enter the mine in order to determine that it is properly ventilated and all harmful gases have been removed, so that the investigation can begin.

On Tuesday morning, a crew from Star Mine had assembled to assist MSHA with its investigation. All other work at the mine has been suspended until the investigation is complete. Star Mine operations manager Rory Williams (not related to Rick Williams) has returned to the company’s headquarters in Denver.

Sunday’s fatal accident occurred near the start of the 6 a.m. shift at tunnel level, approximately 8,000 feet horizontally inside the mountain, in an area that can be reached either on foot or by train. 

Williams, reached by telephone Tuesday morning, said the 22 workers on shift that morning were scattered in pairs throughout the mine, both on surface and underground, executing a variety of tasks. 

The Revenue-Virginius Mine is a historic silver mine with vast underground workings, only a portion of which are currently active in Star Mine’s operation there.

Williams said that the specific area where the accident occurred was not in the active portion of the mine. There were, however, miners in a neighboring area, at work bolting and securing ground, who eventually discovered their fallen comrades. No official information has been released about why the deceased miners had ventured into the inactive area, or why a blast had previously occurred there, releasing the deadly gas.

MSHA regulations require all underground miners to wear self rescue devices, or have them close to their person, at all times. 

According to Williams, Star Mine’s standard-issue self rescue device is the MSA Filter Self-Rescuer W65, an air-purifying respirator intended for one-time escape use providing protection against carbon monoxide (CO) and other gases emitted in underground mine fires or explosions. Self-rescuers do not have built-in gas detectors. 

Cappanno and Rick Williams did have their self-rescuers with them, but MSHA investigators have not confirmed whether or not the devices were activated. 

Williams would not say whether the deceased miners were carrying gas detectors, but he did emphasize that all miners at the Revenue-Virginius have access to gas detectors, and that at least some of those engaged in the initial rescue effort were using them. 

Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of explosives commonly used in mining, and poses a grave health hazard to miners working underground. CO, known to miners as white damp, or the silent killer, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing material. According to the MSHA website,in typical mining operations, the most common sources of CO are internal combustion engine exhaust and explosives detonation. 

When inhaled, CO enters the bloodstream through the lungs and binds with hemoglobin, interfering with the blood's ability to deliver oxygen to the tissues. Initial symptoms include mild headache, fatigue, nausea and dizziness. Exposure to the gas in lethal quantities causes suffocation as the result of chemical asphyxiation.

The Revenue-Virginius safety record has come under scrutiny since Sunday’s accident.

The online journal Mine Safety and Health News, a publication covering mine safety and health issues, reported Monday that Revenue-Virginius miners filed four hazard complaints since March of this year; MSHA officials visited the mine on Oct. 22, investigating a hazard complaint, but no violations were found. 

According to MSHA records, prior to Sunday’s accident, the mine had previously reported five accidents in 2013, and four in 2012. Most of these accidents were not of a serious nature, and many of them could be chalked up to carelessness or operator error.

The most recent accident occurred on Nov. 7, when an employee injured his hand when his utility knife slipped while he was cutting some conveyor belting. 

On June 13, an employee’s hand was pinched between the motor and flat car of a train inside the mine, resulting in several days away from work. On June 25, debris fell into the eye of a  miner who was hammering overhead. A similar accident had occurred on April 4, when an employee was knocking shotcrete loose from a bag and a piece of it “popped into his eye,” according to MSHA’s accident report. On March 13, a miner injured his arm while being lifted up in an enclosed work platform with a telehandler (a cross between a forklift and a crane) to work on structural steel frame. “The work platform was passing by the framework, and the injured worker had his right arm out,” the accident report stated.

Four miners were injured in accidents in 2012. One twisted his ankle while moving supplies; another felt a “pop in the right elbow” while swinging a slug hammer to drive spikes into a rail. 

In August 2012, a miner was injured installing resin cartridges in a bore-hole, when a slab of rock came loose and struck his nose. “The miners were working from a supported area, trying to tie the mats and bolts into the face and back,” according to the accident report. 

The most serious of all the reported accidents at the Revenue Virginius, prior to Sunday’s fatal one, occurred on Oct. 1, 2012, when a jackleg operator lost his anchor point and the drill steel struck a nearby miner’s helper in the ear and neck. The injured miner was evacuated by helicopter and required ongoing treatment, but returned to work “very quickly,” Williams said. 

Upon investigation, MSHA determined that it was a genuine accident, with no negligence involved.

Based on the above data, the Mine Safety and Health News report describes Star Mine’s accident rate as “4.21 compared to the national average of 1.95, giving the mine an accident rate that is 115 percent above the national average” – an oft-cited figure in Revenue-Virginius media coverage since Sunday’s fatal accident.

The MSHN report also cites the mine’s “violations-per-inspection-day” rate as unusually high – 1.47, compared to the national average of .47 for underground metal/nonmetal mines – with 25 violations since August of 2012.

Williams, in the days since the accident, has staunchly defended Star Mine’s approach to safety at the mine. “Any safety concern brought up by an individual, group or MSHA is immediate resolved, on the spot, at that minute, regardless of opinion,” he aId. “When there is a concern, we do our best to try to make it safer. I believe we did, and do, have a strong safety record.”

Williams also emphasized that Star Mine has strict training requirements for all of its workers, including long-term employees and new hires. Cappanno had recently completed a 40-hour MSHA training as well as an eight-hour refresher course. The deceased Rick Williams had also completed a very recent eight-hour refresher course.

Retired MSHA inspector and supervisor Ron Renowden, who now runs a small safety and health consulting business in Silverton, did some safety consulting for Star Mine shortly after the company acquired the Revenue-Virginius property in 2011. 

“I am surprised they are above the national levels on their injury rate,” he said, although he allowed that he had heard some “scuttlebutt of stuff going on” among the Silverton miners employed at the mine. 

“The company has received a lot of negative feedback from miners off and on since they started operating,” he said. “I helped [Star Mine] get started in the very beginning, and cautioned them they need to stay on top of all these things, and reminded them of their responsibilities. Mining is inherently dangerous; you have to use extra-special precautions when operating in a mine or working in a mine; everyone has to stay on board and have a commitment to safety. 

“Safety should be more important than production, so things like this don’t happen. It was an unfortunate chain of events.”

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright



POSTED ON NOV. 18 AT 11:A.M.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Kills Two Miners, Injures 20, in Accident at Revenue-Virginius Mine 

Questions Remain Regarding Sunday’s Tragedy

OURAY – A day after a fatal accident at the Revenue-Virginius Mine, a clearer picture is emerging of the accident that claimed two miners’ lives on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 17.

The miners killed in the accident have been identified as Nicholas Cappanno, 33, of Montrose, and Rick Williams, 59, of Durango. The Ouray County Coroner’s office stated in a preliminary report that both men died from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

As Star Mine Manager Rory Williams, no relation to deceased miner Rick Williams, described the incident at a press conference at the Ouray Community Center late Sunday night. Cappanno and Williams ventured deep into the mine early Sunday morning, shortly after the shift change, encountering lethal levels of carbon monoxide presumed to have lingered as the result of a blast set off on a previous shift. 

Williams confirmed the fallen miners were equipped with safety equipment, including self rescue devices and rebreathers containing oxygen; he said that equipment malfunction is not suspected at this time. 

Equipped with gas detector devices, the 20 miners set out to rescue Williams and Cappanno, but were forced to turn back as they, too, became sickened by the poisonous air. 

The 20 miners involved in the aborted rescue mission made it out alive. 

The Ouray County Sheriff’s Office received a call from 911 dispatch at 7:20 a.m. Sunday, and launched a multi-agency response, with the Ouray Fire District, Ouray County EMS and Ouray Mountain Rescue Team. 

Over the course of the day, the afflicted miners were transported to area hospitals throughout the region via helicopter and ambulance, with at least one miner in critical condition. Williams reported Sunday night that all 20 were stable and expected to recover.

Responders initiated a Sunday-morning rescue operation for the two miners who remained underground, retrieving the bodies at approximately 2 p.m. The Ouray County Coroner confirmed the deaths.

The Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration arrived on the scene Sunday, and has jurisdiction for the investigation of the incident, in coordination with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety. 

The accident occurred at tunnel level, approximately 8,000 feet horizontally inside the mine, in an area that articulates with other underground workings, but where no active operations were currently taking place. 

Williams said he did not have any information about when or why the suspected blast occurred, nor about why Williams and Cappanno had ventured into that portion of the mine. MSHA investigators will seek to answer these and other questions, as well as probe the adequacy of the mine’s ventilation system. 

The historic Revenue-Virginius mine is located near Yankee Boy Basin, 6.9 miles southwest of Ouray, above the Camp Bird Mine, and below the Ruby Trust. Star Mine Operations LLC, a subsidiary of the Denver-based private mining company Silver Star Resources, obtained a mining permit for the Revenue-Virginius in February 2013 to mine silver, gold and sulfide minerals from vein deposits on patented mining claims purchased under a lease agreement by the company in 2011. 

Since obtaining its mining permit, Star Mine has conducted intensive prospecting and rehabilitation at the mine, with three underground crews working around the clock. The Revenue-Virginius was on the resuminng production when Sunday’s accident occurred. 

According to a statement from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which oversees DRMS, surface disturbances associated with the Revenue operation include water ponds, waste storage, mining support facilities and processing facilities. DRMS’ last inspection of surface facilities was in September 2013 to review the construction and certification of the underground mill for processing ore and technical aspects related to surface facilities. DRMS holds a $277,078 reclamation bond for the 34-acre site.

All operations at the mine have now been temporarily suspended, until the MSHA investigation is complete.

News of Sunday’s accident spread quickly – albeit not always accurately – across the nation and around the world. Ouray County Attorney Marti Whitmore dispelled “erroneous reports that have been running around” that the accident was the direct result of a cave-in or explosion.

The last reported injury at the mine occurred on Oct. 1, 2012, when a miner sustained damage to his ear and neck due to an accident with a jackleg drill. Upon investigation, MSHA determined that it was an accident, and that no was negligence involved.

On Sunday, Williams defended Star Mine’s safety record. “We always keep safety as our number one priority,” he said. “We never want an injury, a death, or anything of any nature which harms a person, an individual or an employee to occur on our mine site. I believe our safety record has been strong. We have not had any incident of this nature ever, and I never intend to have another one.” 

Williams declined to release any information about the deceased miners, but said that he knew both men personally. “They were hardworking men. They were great men. They will be remembered, indeed,” he said.

Cappanno's parents, brother, and cousin, who had gathered, quietly hopeful, at the Ouray Community Center early Sunday afternoon to await word of his fate, said he was an inexperienced miner who had just started working at the Revenue-Virginius a few weeks before, and that Rick Williams was his supervisor. 

At around 3 p.m., the family received the devastating news that Williams and Cappanno had not survived.

“We loved him very much, and we will miss him,” Cappanno's mother, Audrey Keep, said, struggling to maintain her composure. “Nick was a very sound Christian, and we are too. He just went ahead of us. We’ve got to have somebody waiting for us.” 

“He’s in heaven, and we pray for the rest of the miners,” father Dan Keep added through tears. “He met Jesus in a beautiful spot.” 

Cappanno leaves behind his wife, Martha Cappanno, and young sons Brayden, 5, and Barrett, 2.

No further information about Williams is available at this time.

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright



UPDATED AT 9:43 P.M. ON SUNDAY, NOV. 17

Two Dead, 20 Hospitalized in Mine Accident

OURAY
– A Sunday-morning accident at the Revenue-Virginius Mine in Ouray County has left two miners dead and 20 more victims in hospitals on the Western Slope.

The two fatalities were confirmed late Sunday as Nick Cappano, 34, of Montrose, and Rick Williams, 59, of Durango. Both men died from carbon monoxide poisoning. According to information from Ouray County authorities Sunday at approximately 3:20 p.m., the bodies of the two miners killed in the incident were recovered following prolonged rescue efforts.

Over the course of the day, 20 accident victims were transported to area hospitals throughout the region. One victim is reportedly in critical condition at Montrose Memorial Hospital.

Nine victims were transported by ambulance to MMI; another five were transported to Delta Memorial Hospital and five more taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.  

Ouray County authorities provided no more information about the condition of the 20 surviving miners.  

The incident occurred at approximately 7:20 a.m. Sunday morning; the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office received a call from 911 dispatch shortly thereafter, regarding an incident at the Revenue-Virginius Mine requiring a response.  The sheriff’s office, alongside the Ouray Fire District and Ouray County EMS, responded immediately.

Rory Williams, project manager for Star Mine Operations, the operator of the Revenue-Virginius, reported at 11 a.m. Sunday, en route to Ouray from the Front Range, that the accident was neither a cave-in nor a mine collapse, but rather the result of a “powder-smoke incident,” with a subsequent release of chemicals injuring the affected miners.

Star Mine Operations, has confirmed an accounting for all on-site personnel . According to Ouray County authorities, the company was contacting listed emergency contacts of all miners transported to regional hospitals.  The Mine Safety and Health Administration is involved and on-site.

Midday Sunday, Montrose Memorial Hospital spokesperson Leann Tobin confirmed that the hospital had received one patient by helicopter, and was expecting more.

"We have five to seven coming here now. We currently have four and have discharged one," Tobin told The Watch. “Five are going to Delta, and five going to St. Mary's.”

Tobin, who could offer no further specifics, said that at MMH, "Everything is really running smoothly right now."

The historic Revenue-Virginius silver mine is located 6.9 miles south of Ouray near Yankee Boy Basin; its roughly 100 workers come from Ouray, Montrose and San Juan counties. Star Mine acquired the property through a lease-purchase agreement in late 2011, and started working to stabilize and ready the historic silver mine for production. In January, the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety approved its mine permit application, “with conditions.” By February, underground crews worked around the clock, in three shifts, to stabilize tunnels and build dry room facilities. In its heyday, between 1876 and the late 1940s, the mine produced more than 14.5 million ounces of silver, weathering the Silver Panic of 1893, while many other silver mines in the region and across the West failed.

– William Woody, Samantha Wright and Gus Jarvis contributed to this reporting.



POSTED AT 11:04 A.M., SUNDAY, NOV. 17

Breaking: 'Powder-Smoke' Accident Injures Miners Near Ouray

OURAY
– Hospitals in Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction are taking in patients following a Sunday morning accident at the Revenue-Virginius mine, near Ouray.

Rory Williams, project manager for Star Mining Operations, the operator of the Revenue-Virginius, said late this morning that the accident was not related to a cave-in or mine collapse, and that apparently a “powder-smoke incident,” and the release of chemicals, had injured the affected miners.

Williams, reached en route to Ouray from the Front Range, said he has not been notified of any fatalities. 

Montrose Memorial Hospital spokesperson Leann Tobin confirmed that the hospital had received one patient by helicopter so far, and was expecting more.

"We have five to seven coming here now. We currently have four and have discharged one," Tobin told The Watch. Of the other injured miners, Tobin said, “Five are going to Delta, and five going to St. Mary's.” 

Tobin could not elaborate on the conditions of the miners at MMH, but said, "Everything is really running smoothly right now."

Tobin confirmed 16 people were involved in the accident, although Williams said that number may be high. 

The historic Revenue-Virginius silver mine is located 6.9 miles south of Ouray near Yankee Boy Basin; its roughly 100 workers come from Ouray, Montrose and San Juan counties. Star Mine acquired the property through a lease-purchase agreement in late 2011, and started working to stabilize and ready the historic silver mine for production. In January, the Colorado Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety approved its mine permit application, “with conditions.” By February, underground crews worked around the clock, in three shifts, to stabilize tunnels and build dry room facilities. In its heyday, between 1876 and the late 1940s, the mine produced more than 14.5 million ounces of silver, weathering the Silver Panic of 1893, while many other silver mines in the region and across the West failed.

 

– William Woody, Samantha Wright and Gus Jarvis contributed to this reporting.



POSTED AT 10:41 A.M., SUNDAY, NOV. 17 

Breaking: Injured Miners Flown to Regional Hospitals After Mine Accident



OURAY
– Montrose Memorial Hospital is taking an influx of patients Sunday morning after a reported mining accident that occurred at the Revenue-Virginius mine near Ouray has reportedly left some miners trapped.

Montrose Memorial Hospital spokesperson Leann Tobin confirmed that the hospital has received one patient by helicopter so far and the hospital is expecting more.

“We have one patient and we understand we have more in route,” Tobin told The Watch. “The chopper has left to return to the scene and there are three more [patients] coming by ambulance.” 

Tobin could not elaborate on the conditions of those patients but said that Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango is also taking patients. 

Tobin confirmed that 16 people have been involved in the accident. One report, that has not yet been confirmed, indicated that six miners have been extracted from the accident scene at the mine while 10 others remain trapped. 

The Revenue-Virginius is located 6.9 miles south of Ouray near Yankee Boy Basin.

– William Woody, Samantha Wright and Gus Jarvis contributed to this reporting.

 

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colorado48
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November 17, 2013
There was a cave in and it happened well before 10 am. One person is till trapped in the cave in. Why are they telling this lie????