SUDBURY, Ontario (AP) — The last four miners trapped deep below the surface in the Totten Mine climbed to safety early Wednesday, the company that owns the mine near Sudbury, Ontario, said.
Vale said the 39 workers trapped by an accident on Sunday climbed a series of ladders with the aid of rescue crews.
Around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, with the help of the rescue workers, miner Kavin Joanette began the long climb up to the surface. He’d climb up in 30-metre bursts, then rest.
“You’d take a break, collect your thoughts, get another burst and go up again,” Joanette said. “It was wet, it was dark, but it was necessary. It was a mind-over-matter game, you’re just climbing up, if you’re stopping, you’re stagnant.”
The entire climb up took about three hours, he said, to reach a point 200 meters below ground, where they could ride an elevator to the surface.
“It was an ordeal,” he said.
The last miner reached the surface shortly before 5 a.m. and was taken away in an ambulance as a precautionary measure, said company spokesman Jeff Lewis.
He “walked onto the ambulance and was giving fist bumps to the mine rescue team," Lewis said.
“It was a emotional ending to a very stressful exercise,” said Gord Gilpin, head of mining for Vale’s Ontario operations. “There were a lot of smiles, a few laughs and fist bumping and congratulations going on.”
The workers became trapped on Sunday when a scoop bucket being sent underground detached and blocked the mine shaft while some were as deep as 1,200 meters (nearly 4,000 feet) below the surface, the company said.
Joanette rushed home after an arduous three-hour climb to hug his young kids before they went to school.
He was running on adrenalin after the rescue operation, worried he’d miss his five-year-old girl Leighton and four-year-old boy Gordie, whom he hadn’t seen in two days. But he managed to make it just before they got on the bus, wrapping his kids and wife in a tight embrace.
"They didn’t quite know what went on, but they knew that dad was gone for two days and he should have been home – they knew something was up,” Joanette said.
Joanette said his Sunday shift began like any other. He got to the mine around 6:30 a.m., with his lunch bag in tow, and headed 1,200 metres below the surface.
“Around 11:30 a.m., we got wind we needed to get to a refuge station,” said the 41-year-old. “We weren’t too sure what happened, but knew something was up.”
Joanette said he took a series of ramps up about 300 meters to a refuge station, “which is like a lunchroom,” where 10 others joined him. They were told to wait for instructions.
Their room had “pretty decent Wi-Fi,” he said, so the group watched videos on their phones to pass the time. The room didn’t have extra food but the workers had their lunches, Joanette said.
“We kind of pigged out at first,” he said, laughing. “We didn’t anticipate being there as long as we were.”
By early Monday morning, some rescue workers made their way down with sandwiches and chocolate bars, he said.
“None of us were starving to death, but we were starting to get hungry,” he said.
The rescue team needed time to set up a system of ropes along a series of ladders the workers would have to climb, Joanette said.
In the meantime, the miners were able to call their families, which helped keep everyone calm, he said.
When he eventually emerged, there was a burst of sunshine, a team of doctors and nurses, the scramble to get home to see his family and finally, a hot shower.
The province’s Ministry of Labor, Training and Skills Development said an inspection team will investigate the incident. Bartolomeo, who was on site, said Vale also will investigate “so that the company can learn from it and take steps to ensure it never happens again.”
The Totten Mine opened in 2014 and produces copper, nickel and precious metals. It employs about 200 people.