EMERY COUNTY, Utah — A miner working in Bear Canyon was killed Sunday in the flash floods that devastated parts of Utah.
According to the Emery County Sheriff's Office, at around 10:15 p.m. a wall of water and debris came down the canyon near the Gentry Mountain Mine and swept over multiple crews.
One group, seeing the water coming towards them, attempted to reverse their vehicle and move out of the path of the flood, but were unable to do so. As the group exited the vehicle, water and debris swept one man away and carried him downstream.
Following an all-night search that lasted into the morning, the man's body was discovered about six miles downstream at 11:15 a.m.
On Tuesday morning, the sheriff's office identified the deceased miner as 48-year-old Gary Nelson of Fairview.
"He was such a hard worker. He was always so happy & made everyone around him smile. His smile & laugh was contagious. He was an amazing guy & did everything for his family & loved his girls more than anything. He will definitely be missed," the Nelson family said in a statement Tuesday.
According to the sheriff's office, Nelson had worked at the mine for the past 10 years. He leaves behind a wife and three daughters.
"Our deepest condolences go to Gary's family, friends and co-workers at this difficult time," the sheriff's office said in a release.
Officials say another man was coming off his shift when the flood overtook his vehicle. The miner was able to reach out to tree and hold on as he was carried a quarter-mile down the canyon. The unidentified man was transported to the hospital and is expected to recover.
A third group consisting of eight men were being carried up to the coal mine when the flood hit their vehicle, causing it to rollover four times. The men were able to kick out the windows of the vehicle and escape to safety.
The sheriff's office says the floods did not impact the underground operations or personnel in the mine.
“This is something that’s going to affect the mining industry greatly especially these communities. These are tight-knit, small rural communities that these operations are in, so anytime you have a tragedy like this, it’s going to affect the whole community," said Brian Somers, president of the Utah Mining Association. “A lot of these folks that have worked in these operations for years — the miner that was killed has actually worked at Gentry Mountain for more than 10 years."
Gentry took over the Bear Canyon mine from Rhino in September of 2020. Nelson previously worked for Rhino at the mine.
“We’ve lost one of our dear friends and workers, and it's been a difficult time for everybody,” said Shain Stoddard, CEO of Gentry Mountain Mining LLC. “Very devastated. All the guys that worked with him and around him — it was a difficult thing, very difficult.”
Stoddard said his team is continuing to clean up the area following the flood, and their coal mining operation might be impacted for a few weeks.
“All the debris, rocks, trees, mud, lots of water, just covered everything,” said Stoddard, a third-generation miner who mentioned that machinery and equipment were also damaged or destroyed during the flood. “I’ve seen water roll rocks down the road. We’ve had to clean them up in the past, but nothing to this extent.”
As for safety around the mine amid the unpredictable flood, Stoddard said that his company is looking into implementing mitigation measures for flood-related incidents.
“Most of our activity is underground," he said. "We don’t have to deal with a lot of the stuff on the surface. We’re underground working, and underground it has its own challenges."
The sheriff's office confirmed that a GoFundMe page set up for Nelson's family was legitimate. If you like, you can donate here.