Kellogg, ID Fire Breaks Out In Silver Mine, May 1972

Sunshine Silver Mine Kellogg ID Sunshine Silver Mine Memorial Sunshine Silver Mine Memorial Burned Shaft Sunshine Mine IDAHO marker.jpg Sunshine Mining Disaster Kellogg IDAHO.jpg


Kellogg, Idaho (AP) -- Rescue workers were near reaching a main access shaft Wednesday night in the hot, smoky Sunshine silver mine in which 24 persons have died and 58 were missing, a mine spokesman said.
That could open the way to the depths "where we hope that our remaining crews are still awaiting rescue," said MARVIN C. CHASE, general manager of western operations for Sunshine Mining Co., in this mountainous northern panhandle of Idaho.
CHASE said rescuers had "a good chance of reaching the No. 16 hoist" sometime during the night. That is one of two principal vertical shafts into the mile-deep mine.
No. 16 doesn't open on the surface but reaches deeper than does the Jewell shaft through which many of the 108 miners escaped to safety shortly after the fire broke out about noon Tuesday in the nation's richest silver mine.
If the hoist is reached, CHASE said, an operator can be put on it to aid exploration of lower parts of the mine.
Most men working in the Sunshine were below the 4,600-foot level when the fire spewed smoke through the tunnels, he said.
The 24 bodies found earlier were discovered at the 3,100 and 3,700-foot levels, probably indicating they were attempting to escape the smoke when they were overcome, CHASE said.
The mine manager said the fire apparently started with spontaneous combustion in timbers at about the 3,700-foot level in a section no longer actively worked. He said the continued presence of smoke in the shafts indicated the fire was still burning more than 36 hours after it first was reported.
The blaze apparently "burned for some time in an area that was blukheaded off," CHASE said, "building up pressure and smoke that finally burst the bulkhead."
The task of removing bodies from the shafts was halted for a time Wednesday when smoke continued to enter the working areas and after six were brought out in addition to those removed Tuesday.
Those six were identified as DON BEEHNER, CHARLES CASTEEL, WILLIAM HANNA, FIODY RIAS, MICK SHARRETT and WILLIAM E. WILSON, mine officials said. All were Sunshine employes from the Kellogg area.
Ground crews continued to pump air into the mine and rescuers sealed off some areas to prevent smoke from spreading.
STANLEY JARRETT, assistant director of the Bureau of Mines, told Interior Secretary ROGERS MORTON that "welding was going on at the time this occurred or it (the cause of the fire) could also have been an electrical short."
JARRETT spoke to MORTON at a quick briefing when the Interior Secretary arrived to inspect the scene. An aide to MORTON said the secretary would have no statement until after visiting the scene and he had been fully briefed.
The bodies of 19 men were being removed from the 3,100 foot level Wednesday, CHASE said. Five others were recovered earlier. CHASE said he had no idea where the missing men were located.
"The best indication the men are still alive is the large amount of air being sent down," he said. He said he believed surviving miners were opening valves of the air supply system to breathe.

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