Rockslide traps operator for 13 hours
Cab of excavator protects B.C. man while rescuers labour to dig him out
September 20, 2007 An excavator operator at a B.C. limestone quarry was trapped for 13 hours as rescuers scrambled to uncover him after a landslide buried the man alive under tonnes of rock.
Roy Aspeslet, an employee with Lor-Wes Contractors, was digging at the Graymont lime quarry, about 30 kilometres north of the Interior town of Lillooet, when the accident occurred, trapping him in the cab of his excavator.
He told The Canadian Press he was pulling away from the side of the mountain when the rock face slipped.
He escaped with just minor injuries because his machine's cab held against the weight of the rock, and air got to him through the rubble.
The accident occurred just after 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and Mr. Aspeslet was finally freed around midnight as rescuers from the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum worked alongside Graymont and Lor-Wes employees and a trained rescue team from a nearby copper mine.
Tribal police from the Ts'kw'aylaxw First Nation, on whose Pavilion reserve the quarry is located, also assisted in the rescue. The mine is located in Marble Canyon on Highway 99 between Lillooet and Cache Creek.
It took six hours to locate Mr. Aspeslet, with rescuers hearing him pounding the roof of his cab, and another seven hours to dig him out. He was released from Lillooet District Hospital this morning and is recovering at his home in the town.
Mr. Aspeslet described a loud bang, followed by the rock wall collapsing.
"I got lucky I guess," he said. "It kind of went over the top of the machine and knocked it down low, and I was really lucky and fortunate that the [rescuers] were coming. You think about all the good things you've done and the bad things you've done and that's about it, I guess."
Bill Dodge, Graymont's CEO, arrived at the quarry from his Richmond head office several hours after the accident and remained until Mr. Aspeslet was found. Mr. Dodge said Mr. Aspeslet climbed out of the cab on his own.
"We had a neat team of professionals there who had it all under control, and they took their time to make sure the area was safe. They dug the guy out and he was very happy to see them with a big smile on his face and he was healthy," Mr. Dodge said.
About 20 people took part in the rescue and everyone was relieved when Mr. Aspeslet emerged from the rubble, he added.
"There was a pretty happy crew here last night, I can tell you," he said.
The seven-man rescue squad from the Highland Valley Copper Mine, Canada's largest open-pit copper mine, joined the search in the early afternoon, said Trevor Phelps, the mine's superintendent of safety. The team, he added, had taken part in a rescue team competition in Fernie earlier this month and were well-practised.
"When the call comes, you go. Our team drove 40 minutes to the quarry and worked alongside the others. Everybody from Graymont did a tremendous job," Mr. Phelps said. "With everyone pulling together, they made sure they had lots of spotters and proper lighting and they were watching each others' backs. They got the job done."
Mr. Dodge said that this section of the quarry is currently closed.