Rescue of Vale miners trapped underground in northern Ontario continues, with 35 of 39 now out

Thirty-five of the 39 miners trapped underground at a mine in northern Ontario since Sunday have climbed to the surface and the rest are expected to join them sometime Tuesday. One of those rescued says he felt some anxiety during the ordeal, but was reassured throughout by the rescue team.

Worker who emerged says there was 'anxiety' after Totten Mine elevator system was damaged Sunday

What it was like being trapped in the Sudbury, Ont., mine

2 years ago
Duration 3:49
Miner Kavin Joanette describes his experience of being trapped underground in a Sudbury, Ont., mine for more than 48 hours.

Thirty-five of the 39 miners trapped underground at a mine in northern Ontario since Sunday have climbed to the surface, and the rest are expected to join them sometime Tuesday.

The workers were stuck in Totten Mine in the Worthington area of Sudbury when an accident damaged the elevator — known as a cage — that normally carries them in and out of the mine.

Like most of the underground crew, Kyle Arcand, one of the miners who made it safely to the surface Tuesday morning, said he was concerned after hearing of the damage to the hoist. 

"There's a lot of anxiety, right? Because you don't know exactly when you're going to come out, or how long you're going to be down there."

Vale says 35 of the 39 workers trapped underground at Totten Mine in northern Ontario since Sunday afternoon have reached the surface as of early Tuesday afternoon. (Radio-Canada)

The workers were stuck at levels of between about 914 and 1,219 metres underground. Toronto's CN Tower, in comparison, is about 550 metres in height.

Mining company Vale announced on Monday night it was "relieved and delighted to see these individuals returning to surface safe and sound."

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Vale spokesperson Danica Pagnutti spoke to one of the miners.

"He was in good spirits and happy to have some pizza to take home and just looking forward to getting home to his family and relaxing, but generally in really good spirits," she said. 

"The miners are all healthy and eager to go home."

'Light at the end of the tunnel'

Shawn Rideout, who is co-ordinating the rescue effort for Ontario Mine Rescue (OMR), said there's "light at the end of the tunnel" as the remaining miners were expected to come to the surface sometime Tuesday. 

"We are taking it slow so that we're not pushing anybody past their energy level," Rideout said. 

The trapped miners are climbing up a series of ladders, some from as far down as 1,200 metres. They will be assisted by OMR officers, one for every miner, and met by medical staff when they reach the surface.

The miners who have already been brought to surface are in good spirits, Rideout said.

"Everybody's doing fine here ... the workers come up, they are obviously happy to see the sunshine. but it's smiles all around and everything's progressing very well."

A truck leaves Vale's Totten Mine in the Sudbury area on Tuesday morning. (Erik White/CBC)

Arcand said he was feeling good and ready to see his family following the ordeal.

He credited Vale and OMR with keeping the crew informed of how they were going to climb out of the mine.   

"They do their best to try to tell you what's going on and whatnot," Arcand said. "So, a little bit of anxiety, and your family's worried and stuff, but all in all they made us feel pretty good. They brought us food and whatnot, and they reassured us step by step with all the processes."

Ministry to begin investigation

A spokesperson from Ontario's Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) said a team from the ministry, including experts in safety inspections and engineering, will begin investigating the incident to check if there were any contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

A statement from the ministry said the incident was first reported to them Sunday, and a "scoop bucket rendered the hoist non-operational at Totten Mine."

Myles Sullivan, who represents the United Steel Workers, says the focus of all groups involved with the Totten Mine rescue operation is on seeing the workers return safely to surface. (Erik White/CBC)

Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger also said the incident was "an equipment failure, not a mine failure."

"From that perspective. I think we all had pretty good confidence that the miners would be able to come out safely," Bigger said. "And obviously, we're watching very closely to ensure that every single last person ... can get back to surface.

"Throughout this period, there have been a number of people beyond the 39 miners that have been underground, and I'm happy to see that there's been no incidents. I'm quite relieved."

'Whole city is holding their breath'

Myles Sullivan, who represents the United Steelworkers Union, said the focus right now — for both workers and Vale — is to see the miners return safely on surface.

"A miner's greatest wish for their shift is that they come to the surface and either see the blue sky at the end of a long day or the stars at night, and they know they came up safely."

Sullivan said he was impressed with how different groups — Vale, rescue teams, union and non-union workers — came together. 

"Everyone who lives in Sudbury either knows someone, or has a family member or who works out one of the mines or mining operations," Sullivan said. "So the whole city is holding their breath and praying that these workers get up safely."

Once the workers are accounted for — Sullivan said he prefers to say the workers were "stuck underground," not trapped — the union will look into the cause of the incident.

"It'll be a sigh of relief when the last person comes up, and then the attention will focus on what happened in the shaft and we'll start evaluating that and looking at that further."