Ouray Police enforced a roadblock on County Road 361 (Camp Bird Mine Road) after an accident at Star Mine. Ouray Police received a call regarding the emergency at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Sun., Nov. 17.
Plaindealer photo by Bill Tiedje
By Sheridan Block
Two miners are dead following an incident that unraveled early Sunday morning at the Revenue-Virginius mine near Ouray.
Nick Cappanno, 34, of Montrose and Rick Williams, 59, of Durango, died of carbon monoxide poisoning on Sunday, according to the county coroner’s preliminary reports. An additional 20 other employees were transported to regional hospitals in Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction for treatment.
On Sunday night, Ouray County’s Emergency Management Team hosted a press conference at the Ouray Community Center.
Serving as the public information officer, County Attorney Marti Whitmore stated that...
the incident occurred at approximately 7:20 a.m. on Sunday. The Ouray County Sheriff’s department received a call from 911 dispatch requiring a response at the Revenue-Virginius mine. Along with the Sheriff’s Office, the Ouray Fire District and Ouray County EMS responded.
Emergency services blocked County Road 361 leading up to the mine as 20 patients were transported to the hospitals. According to Leann Tobin, Montrose Memorial Hospital public information officer, two patients were reported to be in fair condition at the hospital. Additionally, one was admitted to Delta County Memorial Hospital, also reported to be in fair condition and another patient was in fair condition at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.
Earlier reports cited that a total of 10 people were admitted to Montrose Memorial, five to Delta Memorial, and five to St. Mary’s. One patient arrived at Montrose Memorial via the TriState CareFlight helicopter. A Flight for Life helicopter from Durango’s Mercy Regional Medical Center also responded, though no injured were transported there. Before the press conference a majority of patients had been treated and released.
Cappanno and Williams remained underground at the mine site and a rescue operation occurred to extract the miners. Rory Williams, manager for Star Mine Operations at the Virginius-Revenue mine, declined to comment whether the victims were found dead on site.
An explosion and mine collapse have been ruled out as the cause of the incident by Ouray County Sheriff Junior Mattivi. During Sunday’s press conference, Williams stated that it’s possible a blast from the previous work day left noxious gases nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air, causing miners to have collapsed from inhalation of the fumes.
Explosives are common in the mining industry for drilling holes and removing rock from deep within the mountainsides. Williams explained that the suspected blast occurred “beyond the active portion” of where the miners were. Still, all employees at the Revenue-Virginius mine are equipped with self-rescuer devices and carbon monoxide detectors while working, and oxygen breathers are available on site to “try to limit any potential, dangerous events.” It raises the question of whether employees had faulty equipment, though Williams dispelled the idea.
The Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was notified of the incident and reported to the scene. MSHA will have jurisdiction for investigation of the incident, which remains active. The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) will be cooperating with MSHA in their investigation of the accident. DRMS regulates environmental impacts of the mine. Mine safety and enforcement is regulated by MSHA.
The blast is reported to have occurred 8,000 ft. into the mining works, which is horizontal rather than vertical, at the beginning of the morning shift. Williams stated that the mine’s ventilation plan was previously approved. DRMS last inspected surface facilities in September to review construction and certification of the underground mill.
“Our safety record has been strong,” he said. “We’ve not had any incident of this nature at any of our operations ever and I never intend on having another.”
Williams said he personally knew the two victims and added that they were good, hardworking and loyal men. He would not comment on the men’s positions or work history at the mine nor discuss details of the deceased in respect for their families.
Williams was en route to the mining site early Sunday morning from the Front Range. He did thank the county and the community for the fast and professional response from the emergency services. An outpouring of support and donations of supplies and food have also been contributed by the community.
“It’s shown us that this is not just a mine and a town, but that we are one team and one family and we’re greatly appreciative of everything the community has been able to do for us,” he said.
Star Mine Operations, LLC, a division of Silver Star Resources based in Denver, obtained a permit for the mining operation eight miles southwest of Ouray in February this year to mine silver, gold and sulfite materials from mining claims owned by the company. The company began prospecting the site in 2011.
All mining at the site is conducted underground via drill and blast methods. Surface disturbances associated with the operation include water ponds, waste storage, mining support facilities and processing facilities. DRMS holds a reclamation bond for the 34-acre site.
According to Williams, all mining activity at the Revenue-Virginius has been shut down until investigation of the incident is completed. Access to the mine through CR 361 at Senator’s Gulch will also remain closed until further notice.
Media Release from the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety Regarding Ouray Mine