RENO, Nev. – Rescuers reached the bottom of a gold mine shaft in Nevada late Friday where two miners were trapped more than a day ago.
The men are believed to have died inside the Meikle mine in northern Nevada, but Lou Schack of Barrick Gold of North America said late Friday that the effort is continuing and he still can't confirm their deaths.
Elko County dispatch said the sheriff was in charge of the case for the county but he couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
Rescuers worked for more than 32 hours to safely access the area, about 1,300 feet below the surface, Schack said.
The men were being lowered into a shaft in a cage similar to an elevator early Thursday morning when a vertical pipe broke loose from a wall and struck the cage, severely damaging it.
The vertical pipe, about 2 feet in diameter, runs the entire length of the 1,330-foot-deep shaft and is used to carry crushed stone and rocks, Schack said.
There were about 160 employees in the mine at the time of the accident. Family members of the missing miners were notified soon after the accident.
"This is a tragic event and we remain focused on assisting these miners' families," said Greg Lang, President of Barrick's North America Region.
Schack confirmed five fatalities have occurred at the mine, which opened in 1996 about 55 miles northwest of Elko and 275 miles northeast of Reno. There have been 26 mining deaths over the last decade in Nevada, the world's fourth largest gold producer behind South Africa, Australia and China.
"When the pipe failed everything falls so we have to remove debris to make sure we can get in safely," Schack said.
The men were lowered in the cage to inspect the pipe when the accident occurred, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.
An official for MSHA in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press that a camera lowered into the shaft found an obstruction at about 800 feet underground — what appeared to be electrical cables coiled on top of the cage.
One section of pipe was seen at the bottom of the shaft but the rest of the pipe is believed to be wedged in the shaft, said the official, who was not authorized to disclose the information publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official on Friday referred to the search as a "rescue effort" being coordinated by MSHA.
Toronto-based Barrick has not identified the men.
Barrick, the largest gold company in the world, owns several mines in Nevada.
The Meikle mine, which has about 300 workers, is operated by its subsidiary Barrick Goldstrike Mines. It's underground operations have been closed since the accident.