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Man dies at Wolverine mine

A 20-year-old man died from injuries at Yukon Zinc's Wolverine mine Monday. Paul Wentzell was struck by an unmanned motor vehicle while working underground around 9 a.m.

A 20-year-old man died from injuries at Yukon Zinc’s Wolverine mine Monday.

Paul Wentzell was struck by an unmanned motor vehicle while working underground around 9 a.m., according to RCMP.

Wentzell was from Daniel’s Harbour, Newfoundland, although he was living in Alberta at the time of the accident, reports the CBC.

He was flown from the mine, located 180 kilometres southeast of Ross River, to Whitehorse General Hospital where he succumbed to injuries. An autopsy is underway.

“Safety is a huge thing for us, and I just don’t know what the hell happened,” said Ed Yurkowski, president of Procon Mining and Tunnelling.

Wentzell worked for Procon, which handles Wolverine’s underground operations.

Underground work has been halted for several days while the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board investigates.

“We need the scene to be as preserved as possible,” said Kurt Dieckmann, the safety board’s director of occupational health and safety.

It will likely be several weeks before the safety board releases its findings, which could be accompanied by corrective orders, fines or prosecution.

This is Yukon’s second workplace death for 2009. On September 10, Jimmy Conklin, a longtime gold miner from Dawson City, died when his front-end loader flipped and he was pinned under the cab.

There have been 1,330 reported workplace injuries this year.

“Our injuries are actually down compared to last year,” said Dieckmann. “That’s the good news.

“But two fatalities is very bad. Two in a year is a lot. We have lots of years when we don’t have any.”

There was one workplace death in 2008, two in 2007, three in 2006 and one in 2005.

Wolverine remains set to become Yukon’s next operating hardrock mine, with the mine remaining “on track” to open by mid-2010, said chief operating officer Raymond Mah.

By then, the company predicts it will churn out 1,700 tonnes of ore - rich in zinc and silver - daily. The mine should employ about 160 workers and operate for at least 10 years.

The ore would be trucked to Stewart, British Columbia, then shipped to Asia.

Yukon Zinc was purchased in July of 2008 by two big Chinese firms. China is the world’s biggest producer of steel, and zinc is a crucial ingredient to prevent steel from corroding.

There are currently about 200 employees on site, said Mah. Some are working to burrow and reinforce more than two kilometres in tunnels, which run as deep as 85 metres underground. Others are building a mill and other parts of the mine’s industrial complex.

“This is a sad day for Yukon Zinc and Procon and on behalf of our management and staff we express our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of our deceased colleague,” Mah said in a release.

“Both Yukon Zinc and Procon place great emphasis on mine safety and will continue promoting safety programs to ensure that a culture and mindset of safety first is maintained throughout the company.”

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