Rescuers were closing in Friday on two miners in a Nevada gold mine where a pipe had broken loose from a wall and severely damaged a cage that was lowering the pair into a shaft.
Crews were close to the men inside the Meikle mine in northern Nevada and still hoped to reach them by the day's end, said Lou Schack, a spokesman for Barrick Gold of North America. The pipe had apparently broke roughly near the middle of the shaft Thursday and hit the cage, leaving the miners missing and feared dead.
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.
"The men are near the bottom of the shaft," Schack said late Friday afternoon. "It's a slow process and we're patiently working through it and hope to have a resolution soon."
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 being 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 or confirmed any deaths.
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.