Uranium miner dies in rock fall

A 28-year-old uranium miner from Moab died Wednesday morning after he was hit by falling rock in the Pandora mine near LaSal, San Juan County.

County Sheriff Mike Lacy identified the victim of the 7:30 a.m. accident as Hunter Diehl. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was notified of the accident and sent an inspector Wednesday to investigate.

Ron Hochstein, president and CEO of Denver-based Denison Mines (USA) Corp., which owns the mine, said Diehl was working with a partner, using an 8-foot-long crowbar-like tool to break loose rocks from underground tunnel walls and roofs expanded by blasting.

“There was a rock fall, from the mine’s roof or perhaps the wall, we’re not sure,” Hochstein said.

Sheriff Lacy said Diehl’s co-worker saw the victim blinking his head-lamp light, came to his aid and talked to Diehl before going for help. When the co-worker returned, he found Diehl unconscious.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation failed to revive the victim underground. He was transported to San Juan County Hospital in Monticello, where he was pronounced dead.

“They have safety meetings every day,” Hochstein said, noting that rock falls “happened to be one of the safety topics” Wednesday morning before Diehl and two dozen miners went underground to various working sections of the mine.

Records on MSHA’s website show that Denison Mines has owned the mine since 1998, purchasing it from Atlas Minerals, best known for the giant tailings pile currently being moved away from the Colorado River in Moab. Atlas had acquired it from Cleghorn & Washburn Mining Co. in 1980.

Idle until 2006, Pandora mine has grown from having five employees that year to around 57 — more than half working underground — for the last nine month.

Operated by a company called Reliance Resources Inc., the mine had six lost-time injuries in 2009, an incidence rate (11.92) more than five times the national average (2.10) for metal/non-metal mines. (In compiling incidence rates, MSHA classifies mines as coal or metal/non-metal.)

Despite the high rate, Hochstein said “our safety record is actually pretty good. But it’s got room for improvement.”

One of the five injuries last year involved a rock fall. On June 10, 2009, a rock that broke loose after use of explosives rolled over a miner’s foot, fracturing it.

Other accidents occurred working with machinery, operating transport equipment and dealing with parts in the warehouse, MSHA records show.

The Pandora mine received 13 citations for safety violations in 2009 and eight so far this year. MSHA’s last inspection of the mine was conducted April 20-28. Seven citations were issued.

Two were classified as the more serious “significant and substantial” citations, issued for allowing miners to work alone and not keeping working areas “clean and orderly.” The others largely were for exposing miners to excessive noise, MSHA records showed.



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