How rescuers from two states saved man who fell into old Vermont mineshaft

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CORINTH, Vt. – A local fire chief is shedding light on a Saturday night rescue operation that saved a man who fell 150 feet down an abandoned mineshaft in Corinth.

Hanover, New Hampshire, Chief Martin McMillan said the incident was first reported just after 9 pm Saturday night by a bystander who knocked on the door of a nearby house that happened to be the home of a Corinth firefighter.

By the time first responders arrived on scene, the man had been there for two hours, but the rescue itself took less than an hour.

“We believe he was up above a ventilation shaft, and somehow tripped and took a slide,” McMillan said. “Initially at the top it’s about a 45-degree angle, it was iced up and he slid for about 150 feet, and then dropped another 20 or 25 feet where he landed.”

Seven fire departments responded to the scene, but getting there wasn’t an easy task. The mineshaft is located on Pike Hill, and first responders had to load up rescue gear at the base on ATVs before making the climb.

“A lot of us have been doing this a long time, and this particular type of call is once in a lifetime,” McMillan said. “You don’t respond on a regular basis to someone trapped in a mine, we don’t have a ‘Mine Rescue Team’ or anything like that.”

Still, the various departments were able to come together with a quick strategy after scoping out the scene. They had to decide between two entrances – the ventilation shaft he slid down, and a lateral shaft McMillan believes used to be the main entrance into the mine. Because that one was filled waist-deep with water, crews opted for the ventilation shaft.

“We sent two people down, transferred him into a basket and roped him back up using a twin hauling system,” McMillan said. “It worked, kind of unique terrain… It’s really easy to pull something totally vertical or at a low angle, but this was a combination of both, and the whole cave was just loaded with ice.”

The patient was transported down the hill in an ATV and into an Upper Valley Ambulance, which brought them to an awaiting UVM Health Network helicopter. The patient was transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to be treated for his injuries.

The fire departments involved in the rescue included Corinth, Tri-Village, Hanover, Hartford, Lebanon, Thetford, and Bradford Fire Departments.

Corinth-Topsham Fast Squad and Upper Valley Ambulance also responded.

“This entire operation was well-coordinated with a lot of people working with the same goal,” McMillan said. “We’re fortunate we have groups up here that work really well together, and this was a classic example of multiple organizations working together and putting their best foot forward to pull this off.”

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