[Falconbridge] ‘I thought the smelter had blown up’ – by Harold Carmichael (Sudbury Star – June 21, 2019)


Electrician Gary Hrytsak was taking a brief nap during a coffee break at the Falconbridge smelter complex about 10:05 a.m. June 20, 1984, when he got thrown off the bench he was on.

“It was an eerie feeling,” recalled the now-retired Hrytsak during his speech at the 35th Workers’ Memorial Day ceremonies at the Caruso Club on Thursday. “You could feel things shaking under your feet … I thought the smelter had blown up.”

Hrytsak, who went on to do compensation, health and welfare work for his union (Mine Mill and Smelter Workers Local 598), said he put on his respirator, went to the electrical shop and telephoned his foreman, only to be told to stay where he was.

The “explosion” turned out to be a massive rockburst at the nearby Falconbridge Mine No. 5 shaft, centred about the 4,000-foot level. Some 200 miners were in the mine at the time. Three – Daniel Lavallee, Sulo Korpela, and Wayne Chenier – were killed, but a fourth – Wayne St. Michel – was alive, but trapped.

Some 27 hours later, just minutes from being rescued, St. Michel died. More than 50 people were involved in the rescue effort that had to be halted at times due to aftershocks or tremors.

Falconbridge Mine never re-opened. It was determined that the rockburst that struck the mine measured 3.5 on the Richter scale. It was so powerful it was felt in many parts of Sudbury, including the downtown.

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