Abandoned Mine Dangers
Modified from NBMG Special Publication P-2
No one should attempt to explore an abandoned mine as there are many dangers. When an accident does occur at an abandoned mine, please call the county sheriff. No inexperienced person should attempt to rescue the victim of a mine accident. The county sheriff is in the best position to organize a rescue operation. Attempting to rescue a person from a mine accident is usually difficult and dangerous for both the victim and the rescuer. Even professional rescue teams face death or injury, though trained to avoid all unnecessary risks. It makes no sense to kill one person to rescue another. Anyone, adults as well as children, should consider the extreme dangers even to highly trained rescue teams, when tempted to enter mines for any reason.
Do not vandalize. Fences, barricades, and warning signs are there for your safety. Disturbing or
vandalizing them is dangerous. Mine owners have constructed these safeguards at their expense
for your protection. Please cooperate with their efforts. Those who remove tools, equipment,
building materials, and other objects from mines and buildings around mines do not go home with
souvenirs, but with stolen property. Many mines that look abandoned are private property they
are only idle, and waiting to be reworked.
Also, the Nevada Division of Minerals has an Abandoned Mine Lands Program that deals with the hazards of abandoned mines.
The following is modified from NBMG Special Publication P-2, which can be obtained for free from the NBMG Publication Sales Office or free on our website, and lists some of the dangers to be found around old abandoned mines.
"Bad air" contains poisonous gases or insufficient oxygen. Poisonous gases can accumulate in low areas or along the floor. A person may enter such areas breathing the good air above the gases but the motion caused by walking will mix the gases with the good air, producing a possibly lethal mixture for him to breathe on the return trip. Because little effort is required to go down a ladder, the effects of "bad air" may not be noticed, but when climbing out of a shaft, a person requires more oxygen and breathes more deeply. The result is dizziness, followed by unconsciousness. If the gas doesn't kill, the fall will.
Cave-ins are an obvious danger. Areas that are likely to cave often are hard to detect. Minor disturbances, such as vibrations caused by walking or speaking, may cause a cave-in. If a person is caught, he can be crushed to death. A less cheerful possibility is to be trapped behind a cave-in without anyone knowing you are there. Death may come through starvation, thirst, or gradual suffocation.
Many abandoned mines contain old explosives left by previous workers. This is extremely dangerous. Explosives should never be handled by anyone not thoroughly familiar with them. Even experienced miners hesitate to handle old explosives. Old dynamite sticks and caps can explode if stopped on or just touched.
Ladders in most abandoned mines are unsafe. Ladder rungs are missing or broken. Some will fail under the weight of a child because of dry rot. Vertical ladders are particularly dangerous.
Old mine tunnels and shafts are among their favorite haunts-to cool off in summer, or to search for rodents and other small animals. Any hole or ledge, especially near the mouth of the tunnel or shaft, can conceal a snake.
The collar or top of a mineshaft is especially dangerous. The fall down a deep shaft is just as lethal as the fall from a tall building-with the added disadvantage of bouncing from wall to wall in a shaft and the likelihood of having failing rocks and timbers for company. Even if a person survived such a fall, it may be impossible to climb back out. The rock at the surface is often decomposed. Timbers may be rotten or missing. It is dangerous to walk anywhere near a shaft opening-the whole area is often ready and waiting to slide into the shaft, along with the curious. A shaft sunk inside a tunnel is called a winze. In many old mines, winzes have been boarded over. If these boards have decayed, a perfect trap is waiting.
The timber in abandoned mines can be weak from decay. Other timber, although apparently in good condition, may become loose and fall at the slightest touch. A well-timbered mine opening can look very solid when in fact the timber can barely support its own weight. There is the constant danger of inadvertently touching a timber and causing the tunnel to collapse.
Many tunnels have standing pools of water, which could conceal holes in the floor. Pools of water also are common at the bottom of shafts. It is usually impossible to estimate the depth of the water, and a false step could lead to drowning.