The search for a miner trapped in the Getchell Underground Mine near Golconda, Nevada, ended with the discovery of the body of Curtis "CJ" Johnson, 36, an employee of, and the first fatality ever experienced by, Small Mine Development (SMD), a Boise, Idaho-based contract underground mining company established 25 years ago.
A resident of Winnemucca, Nevada, Johnson is survived by a wife and three children. An investigation is now underway by MSHA, the Nevada State Mine Inspector and Barrick to determine what caused the ground to collapse and bury Curtis in the debris.
Johnson was operating a rock bolter at about 2 a.m. Tuesday when ground failure partially buried the equipment at the underground gold mine, which used to have a history of ground control issues. MSHA records revealed that the last fatality at the Getchell Mine was in 1997, when it was then owned by operated by the now defunct Getchell Gold Corp. The operation, which was last inspected by MSHA on August 1, received five minor citations, none of which pertained to ground control violations.
Barrick Manager, Communications and Community Affair, Lou Schack, told Mineweb Wednesday that the company regularly employs the services of SMD contractors at several small, underground gold mines due to their considerable experience in development and mining of small, underground deposits. SMD is the largest underground mine contractor in the U.S., employing 275 miners at eight different mines in the West. Current clients include Barrick (Getchell, Cortez Hills exploration project, Betze Drift Project in Nevada and Golden Sunlight Mine in Montana), Newmont (Leeville, Carlin), Yukon-Nevada Gold (Steer Project) and Unocal, molybdenum in New Mexico.
In 2003, SMD received a safety commendation from the National Mining Association for going without a reportable lost time accident at Getchell for the entire year of 2002.
A spokesman for the Nevada State Mine Inspector's Office told Mineweb Tuesday that they had not issued a notice or order for any violations at the Getchell Mine prior to Tuesday's accident. In fact, Nevada had experienced no fatalities last year.
However, in June 19th, Dan Shaw, 30, a blaster at Newmont Mining's nearby Midas Gold Mine, was operating an LHD when the ground collapsed; resulting in the state's first mining fatality this year. State and federal regulators suspended operations at Midas and are continuing their investigation of Shaw's death.
In total, six U.S. miners died in June and July at metal mining operations.
Ron Guill, owner of SMD, said in a statement issued by Barrick, one of the partners in the Turquoise Ridge JV that "CJ was an outstanding person and an excellent underground miner. Words simply can't express the sense of los that we at SMD feel today."
Getchell is one of two underground mines that make up the Turquoise Ridge JV with Newmont. The mines are located 30 miles north of Golconda, Nevada.
MSHA officials had not responded to Mineweb's request for comment as of deadline Thursday morning.