I picked up "The Deep Dark" (Three Rivers Press) by Gregg Olsen on my last trip to Costco. The book is a closer look at a deadly fire that started deep in the Sunshine Mine, in Kellogg, Idaho, on May 2, 1972. The Sunshine Mine was a hardrock mine, the richest silver mine in the U.S. They extracted silver and other precious metals. While fires in coal mines were more common--and typically more dangerous (think: lots of fuel for the fire)--fires in hardrock mines were relatively rare. The mines were hot, but often very damp. And the only fuel source, so everyone thought, was the (wet) timbers that formed the bracing for the tunnels and shafts.
On May 2, a fire started near the main exit from the Sunshine Mine, a mile-long tunnel 3700 feet below the ground that led from the surface shaft to the shaft that took miners down to 4700 feet and deeper. Smoke quickly filled the mine. One hundred and seventy four men were in the mine that day. Just under half made it out. Of the ninety-three men trapped in the mine, only two survived--thanks to a small pocket of fresh air from a small, newly-bored shaft. The two survivors were stuck 4800 feet below ground with only a dim light and almost no food for seven days--until rescuers could clear out enough smoke and get the appropriate rescue gear to get into the mine. Carbon monoxide poisoning killed the other men.
I almost didn't buy this book. I love non-fiction stories like this, but I am one heck of a claustrophobic. Or perhaps I should say crush-trophobic. I can stand small spaces like closets or elevators. But try to get me into a cave or a crawlspace of a building? Eeek. I feel the same way about mines. You could not pay me enough money to go 4800 feet underground and then a mile down a horizontal passage away from the WAY OUT.
The book was great. It was a little slow to get going. The author follows a large number of people throughout the event, and it takes a while to get everyone's history. A bit too long, in my opinion. However, after the first 50 pages or so, once all of the main characters are in the mine, the pace of the story picks up. The author does a great job of bringing these people to life, and even though this story is true, it has all of the drama that makes good fiction.
I'll admit that about half way into the book, I just had to know what had caused the fire (which was something that puzzled the mine safety engineer at the time), so I jumped to the end and read the epilogue before finishing the rest of the book. Yes, I can be impatient.
I'd recommend this book to anyone.