Kavin Joanette rushed home after an arduous three-hour climb out of a mine in northern Ontario with one goal – to hug his young kids before they went to school.
He was emotional and running on adrenalin after a rescue operation at Totten Mine near Sudbury, Ont. worried he’d miss his five-year-old girl Leighton and four-year-old boy Gordie, whom he hadn’t seen in two days.
But he managed to make it just before they got on the bus, wrapping his kids and wife in a tight embrace.
“It was emotional, I was relieved and they were relieved,” Joanette told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “They didn’t quite know what went on, but they knew that dad was gone for two days and he should have been home – they knew something was up.”
Joanette was one of 39 miners who were stuck deep underground at the mine since Sunday after a scoop bucket detached and blocked the main shaft.
A rescue operation that began Monday night and involved workers scaling a series of ladders ended early Wednesday as the last of the miners emerged around 4:45 a.m., smiling and fist-bumping colleagues and the rescue team.
“It was a great feeling to see that happen,” said Gord Gilpin, head of mining for the Ontario operations at Vale, the company that owns the mine.
“A lot of smiles, a few laughs, fist-bumping and congratulations going on.”
Vale said it would launch an investigation into what happened. The province’s Ministry of Labour also plans to investigate.
The company said the scoop bucket that detached Sunday caused significant damage to the mine shaft and rendered the “conveyance system” used to take workers to and from the surface inoperable.
Some of the miners were as deep as 1,200 metres below the surface, it said.
Nick Larochelle, president of United Steelworkers Union Local 6500, which represents the majority of the workers stuck underground, praised the 58-person rescue team.
“To see people be physically on the surface, out of the mine, yes, that is fantastic,” he said.
Joanette was among a set of workers who emerged from the mine on Tuesday.
He said his Sunday shift began like any other. He got to the mine around 6:30 a.m., with his lunch bag in tow, and headed 1,200 metres below the surface.
“Around 11:30 a.m., we got wind we needed to get to a refuge station,” said the 41-year-old. “We weren’t too sure what happened, but knew something was up.”
Joanette said he took a series of ramps up about 300 metres to a refuge station, “which is like a lunchroom,” where 10 others joined him. They were told to wait for instructions.
Their room had “pretty decent Wi-Fi,” he said, so the group watched videos on their phones to pass the time. The room didn’t have extra food but the workers had their lunches, Joanette said.
“We kind of pigged out at first,” he said, laughing. “We didn’t anticipate being there as long as we were.”
By early Monday morning, some rescue workers made their way down with sandwiches and chocolate bars, he said.
“None of us were starving to death, but we were starting to get hungry,” he said.
The rescue team needed time to set up a system of ropes along a series of ladders the workers would have to climb, Joanette said.
In the meantime, the miners were able to call their families, which helped keep everyone calm, he said.
“It was nice to hear the little ones’ squeaky little voices asking their questions,” he said.
“I remember my daughter saying ‘Mommy says that you’re at work, is that right?’ And I’m like ‘Yeah I’m still at work,’ and they’re wondering when you’re coming home and it’s like, ‘I’m not sure yet, but I’ll be home soon.”’
Around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, with the help of the rescue workers, Joanette began the long climb up to the surface.
He’d climb up in 30-metre bursts, then rest.
“You’d take a break, collect your thoughts, get another burst and go up again,” Joanette said.
“It was wet, it was dark, but it was necessary. It was a mind-over-matter game, you’re just climbing up, if you’re stopping, you’re stagnant.”
The entire climb up took about three hours, he said, to reach a point 200 metres below ground, where they could ride an elevator to the surface.
“It was an ordeal,” he said.
When he emerged, there was a burst of sunshine, a team of doctors and nurses, the scramble to get home to see his family and finally, a hot shower.
“Now I’m just trying to catch up on some chores around the house,” Joanette said. “Some of the daddy-do list that had to get done.”
Joanette is scheduled to work Thursday but isn’t sure what the plan is.
Neither is Vale. The company said it will now try to figure out what needs to be fixed at the mine before allowing employees back to work.
Totten Mine opened in 2014 in Worthington, Ont., and produces copper, nickel and precious metals. It employs about 200 people.