- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Federal mine inspectors say operators were warned numerous times of potential danger at the Revenue-Virginius Mine days before two men died of carbon-monoxide poisoning in 2013.

Mine Safety and Health Administration administrator Joe Main said Tuesday managers of the mine near Ouray (yoo-RAY’) improperly detonated deteriorated explosives in a mine shaft in an attempt to dispose of them, filling the area with toxic gas. Regulators say mine operators failed to seal off the area or ventilate it, and they ignored complaints from miners.

The accident killed Rick Williams of Durango and Nick Cappanno of Montrose, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Twenty other miners were exposed to carbon monoxide while unsuccessfully attempting to rescue the two victims. Seven of them were hospitalized.

Main said mine operators had numerous warnings of potential problems, including complaints of a lack of ventilation on Nov. 11 days before the Nov. 17 fatal accident.

“Mr. Cappanno and Mr. Williams’ deaths were entirely preventable,” Main said.

Around 2 p.m. on the day before the accident occurred, approximately 1,600 pounds of deteriorated explosives were detonated underground. Safety officials say managers failed to follow the proper procedures for disposing of the deteriorating explosives.

Two miners on that evening shift became ill while working in that area and retreated from the mine. A third miner also returned to the surface after encountering what he called “bad air.”

The following morning, two members of the day-shift crew were not warned and went into the drift to observe the results of the detonations from the previous day. Cappanno, who had one month of mining experience, was overcome by toxic levels of carbon monoxide, and another miner ran for help. In an attempt to rescue Cappanno, the shift boss, Rick Williams, entered the drift and was also overcome by carbon monoxide.

The mine was cited Tuesday for multiple failures, including six flagrant violations.

“These were basic safety protections from normal common sense that should have been acted on,” Main said.

The mine was cited 33 times after Star Mine became the operator in 2011, including 13 that regulators determined were reasonably likely to result in injury or illness. Main says the mine has been fined $1 million for violations that led to the miners’ deaths.

After the accident, the gold, silver and lead mine was put up for sale in 2014.

Troy Nazarewicz, spokesman Fortune Minerals Ltd. that bought the Revenue Silver Mine on Oct. 1, said his company has taken steps to improve safety at the mine, including training.

The mine was operated between 1876 and 1912 by Caroline Mining Co. and had production estimated at approximately 15 million ounces of silver before the mill burned and the mine closed.

Nazarewicz said Fortune Minerals believes there is good potential to identify additional resources on the mine property and in the district.

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