MSR Members Recover a Heart Attack Victim from a Mine

Wheeling the victim out of the mine.
Wheeling the victim out of the mine.


Montrose Search and Rescue members received a call on Saturday asking for a team with mine rescue training and experience to travel to an old gold mine near Sacramento.

“The co-owner of a mine apparently had a heart attack while working his claim,” said John McKently, MSR team member.

The team knew this was going to be a recovery, not a rescue. Although there were teams closer to Foresthill near Placer County, none were able or chose to undertake the job. The nearby Nevada County had not been certified yet as a mine rescue team, so at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday the MSR team accepted the call.

The seven and a half hour drive had the team arrive at the location in the dark. It was decided to wait until morning for the recovery.

“The owner, a 53-year-old man, had decided to work the mine,” McKently said. “He had called his partner and told him he was going in. They had a deal that when you came out of the mine you would call the other one to let them know you were out. The partner didn’t get the call so he went into the mine and found the man.”

Janet Henderson and Fred Wenzel of the Montrose team inside the mine.
Janet Henderson and Fred Wenzel of the Montrose team inside the mine.

The victim weighed about 250 pounds or more. It appeared he had just sat down and had a possible heart attack.

After an early morning briefing, the team began the recovery. They walked about 1,200 feet into the mine. They climbed up a ladder 35 to 40 feet and walked another 300 feet to the man.

Then they had to carry the man out of the mine. The floor of the mine was muddy and wet and the ceilings were low. They were able to bring the man out of the mine and to his family.

There were four members of MSR, one member from Malibu rescue, two from Sierra Madre and were assisted by Los Angeles County Mine Rescue. Also four of the Nevada County team members were on hand to assist if needed.

The MSR is one of the few teams in California that has been trained in mine rescue.

McKently said many years ago a representative from the Office of Emergency Services told local members there was a shortage of mine rescue teams in the state. Many of the teams opted out of training.

“Montrose Search and Rescue said OK,” McKently said.

The team has a history of taking on training challenges from ice rescue to mines.

The state continues the training and 12 to 14 MSR members have been trained for this specialized rescue/recovery.

“California mines are much different than those in the east,” McKently said. “I have friends that [do rescues] in mines in Pennsylvania. When they hear what type of mines we have, and what we have to do, they said they wouldn’t do it.”

The difference is the mines in the east are usually working mines that have modern technology and safety features.

“Mines in California are [often] old abandoned mines, that have not been changed in 100 years,” he said.

The danger with these types of mines is the unknown. Rescuers have to be careful with every step. Timbers that seem solid may not be once stepped on. That is why there are many government regulations for safety equipment including the use of a breathing apparatus.

“We are [strictly] regulated by the safety and health administration,” he added.