Sinkhole? How About A Mine Shaft!
Man Rescued from Leadville’s Past
** Update: CLICK HERE **
First, and certainly most important, the guy is going to be alright. That’s not to say that being swallowed up by an old mine shaft on April Fools Day is something that happens all the time, but the individual that fell into the 30-foot pit is going to recover from his injuries.
This brings the story to the second point. There is a difference between a sinkhole and a mine shaft, especially in an Old West mining town like Leadville. A sinkhole is defined as “a cavity in the ground, especially in limestone bedrock, caused by water erosion and providing a route for surface water to disappear underground.” Whereas a mine shaft is “a deep narrow vertical hole, or sometimes a horizontal tunnel, that gives access to a mine.”
Of course, should you find yourself unexpectedly at the bottom of a 30’ pit of debris and darkness, it doesn’t really matter what you call it. You just call for help. Which is exactly what the man’s spouse did, as she watched the entire incident happen right before her very eyes!
Neighborhood reports indicate the couple had walked to the Leadville Storage unit located at 131 E. 2nd Street on Wednesday afternoon April 1. The more-than-a-quarter-century-old, no-frills mini storage facility promotes itself as offering “some of the cheapest self-storage rates in Lake County.” But that day, one of their customers would get the bargain-basement-special of a lifetime as the movement from the storage unit’s door created an underground shift, opening up a 20-foot hole, and sending the man – who later identified himself as Bryan Osif – plunging into an icy mine shaft, battered and bruised. In the blink of an eye, his spouse watched the ground open up and swallow her beloved.
The first call was to 911 Lake County Dispatch. Public Information Officer Betty Benson with the Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue (LLCFR) picks up the story from there with a press release distributed to media outlets on April 1, 2021:
At approximately 6:02 PM April 1 Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue (LLCFR) was dispatched to 2nd and Plum where an individual had fallen into a 30’ deep pit while attempting to access his storage unit. LLCFR personnel were on scene at 6:04 PM and discovered the bottom of this pit had substantial ice and water creating a very cold situation as well as unstable edges and sides of the pit. Within minutes of arriving and assessing the situation firefighter Alex Conlin was directed by Capt. McCann to assist this individual while a rescue plan was developed and implemented. Conlin prepared to rappel down the hole taking with him appropriate safety equipment to prepare the patient for extrication.
Yes, Leadville’s finest arrived on the scene and immediately put a plan into action. But the truth is that firefighter wasn’t likely the only one to be hoisted down into that shaft over the years. In fact, the Home Extension Mine was a big zinc produced back in the Leadville Boom Days of the 1880s. And its entire deep, dark shaft sits directly below the entire Leadville Storage facility as outlined on this 1937 Leadville Fire Map obtained by Leadville Today.
As rescue crews put their plan into action, a second call was made. This one to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, because the hole that opened up was a mine shaft, not a sinkhole. This is an important factual component to the story because part of the solution will involve the Office of Active and Inactive Mines whose duty it is to “reclaim and safeguard abandoned mine sites that are dangerous and create environmental hazards.” Leadville Today has reached out to their media contacts. Their office is preparing a formal statement which will be added to this report when it is received.
Background on Inactive Mine Program
Since 1980, the program has safeguarded over 10,500 hazardous openings and reclaimed 4,000 acres of abandoned mined land statewide.
The major program activity is to identify the hazards and environmental problems arising from abandoned mines, design appropriate closure methods and reclamation techniques for project sites, and reclaim or safeguard abandoned mine hazards and environmental problems with the landowner’s consent. Project activities include: field investigations, project development, project design, realty work, historical and cultural resource evaluation, wildlife considerations, NEPA compliance, construction contract bidding and management, site construction and reclamation, construction inspection, and site monitoring and maintenance of prior project work.
While many of the abandoned mine sites that field agents investigate are tucked away in a remote part of the woods or mountains, the April 1 incident was a much more visible situation, one that came with a stark reminder that Leadville’s past, present, and future still lies deep underground.
The April 1 rescue story continues per the LLCFR press release:
The rescue effort then began by placing a 24’ ladder over the top of the hole allowing a better view of the the pit. Conlin rappelled down and was then able to help the patient into the safety gear that was attached to a safety line and secured to the fire engine keeping him from sinking into the water. It was determined that the patient had injuries, so REACH was contacted to head to Leadville. Lake County Search and Rescue was called out for a high angle rescue and arrived on scene at 7:40 and assisted with removing Conlin and the patient from the pit. The patient was immediately taken by ambulance to the airport where the helicopter was waiting to transport him to a metro area hospital for treatment of his injuries. Conlin was assessed and provided rehabilitation treatment as well as warmed up from the extremely cold environment he had been in. Conlin, when asked about his quick reaction to the situation stated “Risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little, risk nothing to save nothing.” He recognized very quickly the grave situation the patient was in. Conlin also shared that “Our Department’s (LLCFR) core ideology is “first in, last out”, and they train and prepare for how best to handle these and many other types of situations.
Captain McCann said “this was an incredible example of teamwork with all responding agencies to smoothly and safely accomplish this rescue”. On Scene and assisting agencies included LLCFR, Leadville Police officers, Search and Rescue personnel, St. Vincent Ambulance crews, Lake County Road and Bridge, and Dispatch.
A happy ending is always nice to report, but accuracy is most important to assure that every emergency situation is addressed and remedied in the correct manner with all the variables in clear focus. Because as each old mining dump pile gets hauled off for development, with it goes the clues of what’s lurking underground. With each obituary, along with a loved one is buried the working knowledge of the catacombs of gloryholes littered throughout Leadville, especially on its mineral-rich eastside.
And while things above ground may be shifting, what will never change is history. Leadville’s mining heritage will never be re-written because every once in a while it will show up on an April Fool’s Day in America’s highest city. And that’s a fact!