Thirty-nine miners who had been trapped underground in northern Ontario have now all safely made it to the surface.
Vale, the company that owns the Totten Mine near Sudbury, Ont., says the rescue operation is now complete.
The workers became trapped in the mine on Sunday when a scoop bucket being sent underground detached and blocked the mine shaft.
They had to scale a series of ladders to climb out of the mine and were helped along by a rescue crew.
The rescue operation began on Monday night.
Vale said the workers stayed in underground “refuge stations” and had access to food, water and medicine before climbing out.
Shawn Rideout, chief mine rescue officer with Ontario Mine Rescue (OMR) who co-ordinated the efforts to bring the workers to the surface, said Wednesday everyone at the site was “pretty excited” to have all the miners out.
“It was very emotional to have the 39 guys return to the surface,” Rideout told CBC News Network shortly after the last miner was brought out, noting the spouses of the last four workers met them at the mine site.
“It was a lot of cheering, a lot of happy folks.”
All 39 miners were able to climb out on their own.
Rideout said all the mine rescue workers were there, along with Vale management, representatives from the United Steelworkers union and families of the remaining workers.
Final worker came to surface 4:45 a.m. Wednesday
The last worker was brought to the surface around 4:45 a.m. ET Wednesday.
Rideout said there weren’t any additional complications with the final four workers to be rescued.
“Just the added time of being underground,” he said, noting people were starting to cramp up from the dampness and lack of movement.
“So we had to take it extra slow, as we were getting the last four gentlemen.”
Rescue workers didn’t want to push anyone beyond their capabilities, Rideout said.
“And it was a very successful outcome.”
Rideout said he expected everyone would be taking a couple of days to recover from the last three days.
“They were 72 intense hours,” he said. “But yeah everyone is going to return back to normal, back to mining — without incident.”
Grateful for ‘tireless work’ of rescuers, union says
The workers who had been trapped are members of the United Steelworkers union (USW) Local 6500.
“We are immensely grateful for the tireless work of the rescue crews who helped bring everyone up safely,” local president Nick Larochelle said in a news release Wednesday.
“In Sudbury, we have some of the best rescue crews in the entire world — workers who voluntarily train on an ongoing basis, in case an emergency like this ever happens. Our union and the entire Sudbury community thanks them for their service.”
Rescue crew members sometimes made four trips per shift, carrying supplies in backpacks to make sure the trapped miners had what they needed.
“When something like this happens, our heart stops for a moment — not just in Sudbury but in mining communities across the country and around the world,” said Marty Warren, USW District 6 (Ontario and Atlantic) director.
“Mining is much safer than it once was. This work builds entire northern communities, but miners take a great deal of risk every time they go underground. We must never forget that.”
‘Tremendous news,’ Vale says
“I’d like to congratulate our rescue team,” Eduardo Bartolomeo, Vale’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. He had met with the employees and rescue personnel in Sudbury.
“Bringing our 39 employees home safe and healthy was our top priority and we’re glad that our emergency plans and procedures worked to deliver that outcome. All the employees are safe now and deserve our deep respect for their perseverance and strong will.”
Bartolomeo called the successful rescue “tremendous news” given the difficult circumstances.
“All of us at Vale were focused on and committed to the safe return of our employees underground,” he said. “Hearing that every one of them is back on surface and returning home is the best news we could have received.”
Investigation to follow
All operations at the Totten Mine are currently suspended.
Vale and Ontario’s Ministry of Labour are launching an investigation into what happened, to ensure an incident such as this doesn’t occur again.