17 miners rescued from New York salt mine

Posted at 7:21 AM, Jan 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-07 12:19:53-05

A band of salt miners were supposed to start their shift after they entered an elevator at an upstate New York mine on a freezing Wednesday night.

Instead, the 17 men spent that shift huddled together for hours after the elevator stopped about 800 feet below ground, doing what they could to keep themselves warm as rescuers worked to bring them to the surface, officials said.

Rescuers used a crane-lowered basket to retrieve all 17 men from a shaft at a Cargill rock salt mine near Lansing, New York, by 8:30 a.m. Thursday, more than 10 hours after the elevator became stuck.

The rescued miners were cold but OK, said Shawn Wilczynski, manager of Cargill’s Cayuga Salt Mine.

“Their spirits are tremendous,” Wilczynski told reporters. “As far as their spirit, I’m inspired by them.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed that state health and labor inspectors investigate what caused the elevator to become stuck, his office said Thursday morning.

The men entered the two-level elevator about 10 p.m. to start their shifts at the mine, which processes salt that is used to treat roads for wintry weather.

The elevator, for reasons not immediately known, stopped short of halfway down the 2,300-foot shaft, Wilczynski said.

That left the men stranded in roughly the same temperatures at the surface, he said. At the time, it was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 Celsius) and dropping.

Rescuers talked to the miners via radio and used quarter-inch cables to lower duffel bags with blankets, hats, hand warmers and heaters to the men, Wilczynski said.

Rescuers, including Lansing firefighters, reached out to a crane company, which arrived with a crane-lowered basket that would be used to retrieve the men.

In groups of three or four, the men left the elevator for the basket, which brought them back to the surface from 7 to 8:30 a.m.

“The first four (who) came out of the mine waited (at the surface) until the last two came out of the mine,” Wilczynski said.

The mine will suspend operations until the incident is investigated and the infrastructure fixed, he said. Given a winter with relatively light snowfall, a salt shortage isn’t likely, he said.

“We have abundant stockpiles of salt, so there is no need to operate (at a) high level,” Wilczynski said.

The mine, near Cayuga Lake, produces about 2 million tons of road salt that is shipped to more than 1,500 places in the northeastern United States, Cargill’s website says.

The rock salt mine is one of three operated by Cargill, with the other two being in Louisiana and Ohio.