North Idaho

Idaho Community Prays, Awaits Word On Miner's Fate

MULLAN, Idaho - Mining is a brotherhood and when one brother bleeds, they all bleed. That's how a Pinehurst, Idaho resident put it and the pain of not knowing Larry Marek's fate in the depth of the Lucky Friday Mine is painful for this tight-knit community.

It's been two days since the collapse, or - localized fall of ground - as owner Hecla calls it. It happened as Larry Marek and his brother were working 6,150 feet below the surface on a mining vein that's 2,200 feet long.

The Lucky Friday Mine is located about an hour east of Coeur d'Alene in the town of Mullen. Everyone who lives in the area of Mullan, Wallace or Pinehurst is either a miner or has a father, brother or son that is. Mining is a way of life.

"The miners are all brothers," Jim Best said. "Especially the Marek family."

That sentiment was echoed throughout a Young Life church and coffee shop in the middle of Pinehurst. Worshipers gathered there Sunday morning and all anyone could think or talk about was Larry Marek.

"He's down to earth, a nice guy, a very hard worker, over 30 years of experience," Tina Payton said.

Payton grew up next to the Mareks in Pinehurst and says almost every man in the family works in the mines. Payton's own brother, uncle and father mined, too, so she's no stranger to mining accidents.

"It's the most dangerous job you can have, you put your life in danger every day," Payton said. "You make sure you tell your family every day that you love them before you leave for work because you don't know, God can take you at any time."

In fact, all three towns that depend on the Lucky Friday Mine and the income it creates can remember each miner who has died at work. They are their neighbors; an extended family as they describe it.

"Anytime a miner is trapped or hurt it goes back to the Sunshine... The Sunshine Disaster," Best said.

In 1972, 91 miners were killed when fire broke out in The Sunshine Mine. It is the biggest mining disaster in U.S. History and in Idaho.

Then, in June of 2010, 29-year-old Tim Bush died in The Galena Mine when a slab of rock hit him.

The Pinehurst community is not giving up hope that Marek will make it out alive. They've heard a robotic mucker is having success at clearing the rock that might lead to Marek.

"We pray constantly, we prayed today and we hope that he's going to come out of this," Best said. "This is what's on the Valley right now, really the Valley won't be at peace until Larry comes out of the mine."

The Hecla Mining Company will continue rescue efforts around the clock in 12 hours shifts until they reach Marek.

Hecla Mining Company rescue operation update - 10 p.m. Sunday.

Hecla Mining Company Website.