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Remote digger arrives to aid trapped miner

Associated Press / April 19, 2011

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MULLAN, Idaho — A remote-control digger arrived to help rescue workers advance more quickly yesterday toward an Idaho silver miner trapped for a third day in one of the nation’s deepest underground mines.

Crews expected the special digger to help as they tried to reach 30-year mining veteran Larry Marek, who was in the Lucky Friday Mine when it collapsed more than a mile underground Friday.

The machine — a front-end loader modified for mining and called a mucker — was expected to move material “without needing all the additional ground support to ensure the safety of our rescue teams,’’ the company said.

But progress still could be slowed by boulder-sized rocks and the time-consuming work of shoring up tunnels from further collapse. “In the meantime, rescue crews continue to safely advance and progress on the removal of material,’’ mine owner Hecla Mining said.

The Lucky Friday Mine is tucked into the forested mountains of Mullan, a historic mining town of 840 people in Idaho’s panhandle.

Last June, a miner was killed in the Galena Mine in nearby Silverton after a rock slab fell on him. And in 1972, 91 miners were killed in a terrible fire about 3,700 feet underground inside the Sunshine Mine between Kellogg and Wallace.

Officials do not know Marek’s condition, and they have not had contact with him since the roof of the mining tunnel collapsed about 5:30 p.m. Friday.

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