All 17 miners at the Cargill Salt Mine in Lansing have now been rescued after they were stuck in an elevator about 900 feet below ground.

The 4th group of workers emerge from the Cargill Salt Mine after they were trapped in an elevator Wednesday night. Pool photo/Ithaca Journal

Update 10:40 a.m.: The following information comes from a news conference held by Cargill at the Lansing fire department:

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Miners huddle, joke to keep up warmth and morale

Over the course of the 10 hour rescue effort, the 17 trapped miners stayed huddled together against the cold. “They did what they could do to keep each other warm and keep each other’s spirits up,” said Shawn Wilczynski, mine manager for the Cargill Salt Mine.

The miners reportedly spent the night “joking, sharing stories and having a good time with each other” to keep morale high through the ordeal.

Once the rescue was finished, “The first thing was to say ‘Nice to see you,’ and get them into a dry warm environment.”

The miners, all men, ranged in age and experience levels. The group included a 40-year veteran to one miner who had been on the job for just a few months. Some members were from the mine’s maintenance crew. Ages ranged from 20 to 60 years old – with the 60 year old being among the first to be rescued.

“Their spirits are tremendous,” Wilczynski said of the miners. The miners were all reportedly fine – cold, but fine. The first eight miners rescued were all standing there, showered, smiling and clapping to greet their colleagues when the last group came up.

He said that personal information about the miners at each individual employee’s own discretion.
Wilczynski says he’s never heard of an incident of this degree in his 18 years working in the mining industry. Wilczynski said accidents like this are not industry standard and “very rare.”

What caused the elevator breakdown?

According to mine officials, the 2nd shift crew exited the mine at 9:55 p.m. There were no noises or any indications of any problems with the elevator at that time.

Five or ten minutes later, the third shift crew entered the elevator to begin their shift.

“We think this was a mechanical break,” said Wilczynski. The running theory is that on one of the site’s vertical beams, a guide broke lose and came out of the shaft, preventing the elevator from moving downward.

However, he cautioned that the details are still uncertain.

“We need to take our time,” said Wilczynski, “this is not an incident or something we want to look at lightly.”

He said that Cargill would need to step back, regroup and ensure they had the right resources to fully understand what occurred.

“We are in no hurry to move forward from an operation standpoint or anything else,” Wilczynski said.

He said the elevator may still be stuck there for a time. The mine will not resume operation until all the mine’s infrastructure is determined to be safe and in working order. Cargill’s next step is to pull together a plan on how to safely raise the elevator out of the shaft.

Wilczynski said once the elevator is up, they will change the rope, inspect the elevator and replace it if necessary. Since it’s still not certain the exact nature of the problem, he could only speculate at the time. He said, however, “We will take whatever time is necessary” and that the mine is not under any pressure to resume operations, as the mine has enough salt stockpiled to serve customers for the time being.

The mine will not open until next week, at the absolute earliest.

According to Wilczynski, the National Mine Association and Mine Safety Administration review the safety of around 13,000 mines of various sizes around the country. In 2011 and 2013, the Cayuga Salt Mine was awrded the Centennial of Safety Award for the safest large underground nonmetal mine in the country.

He said it had been almost 6 years since the last accident at the Lansing mine. That accident occurred on March 24 of 2010, when a salt bin collapsed on a truck.

The rescue effort

Emergency responders from Lansing were the first two arrive on the scene.

The first supplies were delivered to the trapped miners at around midnight. The supplies and their delivery method was rudimentary, but effective. Rescue workers lowered duffle bags with a light attached into the shaft on messenger cables. The bags contained blankets, hates, gloves and a heater to help the miners stay warm.

“We were constantly try to keep them with whatever they needed,” Wilczynski said.

The biggest challenge, Wilczynski explained, was finding a crane that could reach deep enough in the mine to reach the trapped miners.

“As we know through numerous phone calls, it is a difficult task” to find a crane that can reach 1,000 feet into the ground.

He extended thanks to Steve Bilinksi, owner of Auburn Crane and Rigging for providing a crane that could do the job. David Smith operated the crane.

Once the crane arrived, the decisions of who to bring up first were made based on how the relative age, health and personal circumstances of the individual miners.

Wilczynski explained that the elevator ride down to the mine usually takes 5 minutes. Using the crane to pull the men out took 10 or 15 minutes per trip.
Miners were brought up two or three at a time, along with one emergency responder who helped them into the crane basket. The first group came to the surface around 7 a.m. The last miners were rescued at approximately 8:30 a.m.

He said that everyone was in a full body harness with two lanyards, so there was no chance of anyone falling at any time.

None of the miner’s families were on the scene. Wilczynski said they reached out to the miners’ families based on information the miners provided and were able to get in contact with some. He said that the issue of the miners reuniting with their families was a personal one.

He said that Cargill employees train with Ithaca and Lansing fire department every year to prepare for emergencies. “It’s something you hope you never to use,” he said, but he was glad that the training had paid off.

Wilczynski said that there were numerous agencies who helped in the rescue and the outpouring and willingness to help was extremely welcome.

“I think this is really a proud day of a lot of Central New York people,” he concluded.

Update 8 a.m.: Now 15 miners have been safely rescued. The other 2 are also expected to be OK, according to emergency officials.

“The workers are in radio communication with company officials on the surface,” says a news release from the county. “Workers have also been provided with jackets, hand warmers, and other items to make sure they remain warm.”

Update: The first eight miners have just been rescued and all others are expected to get out safely, according to County Administrator Joe Mareane.

Earlier, officials said 17 miners became stuck at the Cargill Salt Mine in Lansing at around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night.

They became stuck in an double-decker elevator about 900-feet down the 2,300-foot shaft. For perspective, about 1.5 Empire State buildings could fit in the shaft.

We’ll provide updates as they become available.

Update at 6:45 a.m.: Officials at a news conference have said 17 miners are stuck in an air shaft at the Cargill Salt Mine in Lansing. The workers have been stuck since about 10:30 p.m.

Lieutenant Tom Basher, of the Ithaca Fire Department, said multiple rescue options have been weighed and it was determined that it would be best to use a basket care from Auburn to to rescue them.

“That’s going on right now,” Basher said. “Any minute we should have the first crews up and out.”

He said it’s about 18-degrees outside but because it’s an airshaft, workers have been facing a constant breeze all night.

Rescuers have been able to provide the workers with blankets, heat packs, and other necessary supplies.

The salt mine is located under Cayuga Lake. It provides road salt, primarily, to northeast states.

LANSING, N.Y. — Officials have been making rescue efforts to get 17 workers out of a stuck elevator shaft at the Cargill Salt Mine since late Wednesday night.

Rescue crews were called to 191 Portland Point Road around 11:30 p.m., the Tompkins Department of Emergency Response said.

The shaft is thought to be stuck about 775 to 900 feet deep.

An official said no injuries have been reported and all 17 people are safe.

“A crane from Auburn has arrived on scene to assist at the rescue at Cargill salt mine.” Photo courtesy of the Ithaca Fire Department Facebook page.

“They are safe. It’s just a matter of getting them out,” an emergency response official said.

Rescuers have been able to provide the workers with blankets, heat packs, and other necessary supplies.

The Lansing Fire Department, Cayuga Heights Fire Department, rope teams from the Ithaca and Trumansburg Fire Department, multiple ambulances and the Tompkins County Sheriff’s office are at the scene as of 5:10 a.m. A crane is also being used at the scene.

An emergency response official said crew are expected to be at the scene for several more hours.

This is a developing story. A reporter is on the way to the scene.

We’re glad everyone is safe and being cared for. If you or anyone you know has been at the mine and want to share your story, please contact Jolene Almendarez at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com or 907-854-3248. We understand this has been a scary and difficult time for people and wish you all the best.

Below: some pictures from the scene of the rescue, courtesy of Ithaca Fire Department’s Facebook page.

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.