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North Central District
Metal and Nonmetal Mine Safety and Health

Accident Investigation Report
Underground Metal Mine

Fatal Machinery Accident

Northwest Industrial Services, Incorporated
I.D. No. PUT


White Pine Mine
Copper Range Company
White Pine, Ontonagon County, Michigan
I.D. No. 20-00371

February 25, 1998


Ralph D. Christensen
Supervisory Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Stephen W. Field
Mine Safety and Health Inspector

Gharib Ibrahim
Civil Engineer

Tara E. Earnest
Civil Engineer

Originating Office
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Federal Building, U.S. Court House
515 West 1st Street, #333
Duluth, MN 55802-1302

Felix A. Quintana
District Manager


John D. Riippa, a steel salvage contractor, age 51, was fatally injured at about 3:00 p.m. on February 25, 1998, while dismantling a shaft head frame. Riippa was known to have been in the steel salvage business for at least 20 years. He had received training in accordance with 30 CFR, Part 48 and received annual refresher training on January 28, 1998.

MSHA was notified at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the accident by a telephone call from the president and general manager of the mining company. An investigation was started the next day.

Northwest Industrial Services, Inc., a steel salvage company, owned and operated by John Riippa, was located at 401 Hamilton Drive, Iron Mountain, Michigan. The principle operating official was John Riippa, president. Riippa was performing salvage work at the White Pine Mine, No. 3 shaft surface area on an intermittent basis. The mine was located at White Pine, Ontonagon County, Michigan. The mine had ceased operations and was in the process of salvaging and dismantling, preparatory to final closure. The No. 3 shaft was located one mile south of the mine on Highway 64 and three miles east on LP Walsh Road. At the time of the accident, one other person employed by Riippa was with him at the site.

Northwest Industrial Services, Inc. had entered into a contract agreement on August 18, 1997, with the mining company to dismantle the No. 3 shaft complex. The salvage was to be completed by May 1, 1998. On February 11, 1998, mining company officials sent correspondence to Riippa which stated that progress of the work at the site was not satisfactory; certain conditions had not been met; the demolition was not continuous, and the site was unsafe. Mine officials stated during the investigation that they were concerned that the contractor could not dismantle the structures safely because of the lack of suitable equipment. John Riippa was to respond to their concerns by February 13th, which he did. Mine officials considered the response to be inadequate and on February 20 informed Riippa by telephone that they were terminating his contract. Mine officials stated that a written termination notice was prepared by their attorney and was to be delivered to Riippa on the day of the accident.

The last regular inspection of this operation was conducted December 17-19, 1997. Another inspection was conducted following this investigation.


The accident occurred at the surface area of the No. 3 shaft. The structures to be dismantled were the shaft head frame, the shaft hoist conveyance building, the water tank, and an overhead conveyor. These facilities had not been used since 1975.

The head frame was a steel frame structure which measured approximately 160 feet tall and 37 by 10 feet at the base. The framework was comprised of two side trusses connected by bracing members forming upper and lower decks.

The structure had been cut by the contractor from its foundation hinge points and pulled down with a long cable attached to a bulldozer. The victim had cut through the top section cross members on the steel structure, leaving two small areas intact at the bottom. The section which fell was 31 feet long and weighed an estimated 2 tons.

It was the consensus opinion of the investigation that the victim was cutting one of the three cross members at the bottom of the structure when the small uncut areas in the two remaining members failed.


On the day of the accident, John Riippa (victim) left his place of business in Iron Mountain, Michigan, with John Secinaro, employee, to continue salvage work at the White Pine Mine. They arrived at the No. 3 shaft at about 1:00 p.m. Prior to leaving for the mine, Riippa attended to insurance matters, which was one of the conditions that the mining company had expressed concerns about.

When they arrived at the site, Riippa pulled the pickup truck into the area where he planned to start cutting the head frame and close to the No. 3 shaft building door where Secinaro would be loading the pickup truck with material from inside the building. There was only one cutting torch and the victim told Secinaro that he wanted to do the cutting. The torch was hooked up to gas cylinders in the pickup truck bed.

Secinaro began stripping electrical wires and panels from inside the building and loading them into the back of the pickup truck. Secinaro could hear steel dropping and occasionally it would "ping" as if under pressure as the victim was cutting with the torch. Just before 3:00 p.m., Secinaro was in the building when he heard a louder-than-usual crashing sound. He stated he didn't think anything about it at the moment, but remembered it was louder than he had heard before. Secinaro walked out to place some wire in the back of the truck and noticed what he thought to be Riippa's jacket on the ground. He took another look and realized that it was Riippa himself. At this point, Secinaro realized that the large section of the structure that Riippa had been cutting had fallen on him.

Secinaro ran over to one of two other persons at the site, Larry Niemi and John McKana, who were picking up steel sheeting with a crane and loading them onto a truck. The two men were not associated with Northwest Industrial Services. Secinaro told Niemi that his partner was under a steel beam and he needed help. Niemi proceeded to the accident site and, after he got within sight of the victim, he knew there was nothing he could do. Niemi then went to the security building about 4 miles away to call for an ambulance.

McKana moved the crane into position to lift the section of head frame. Niemi had just returned and assisted in lifting the beam off the victim. Mining company officials and local authorities arrived and the victim was pronounced dead a short time later.


The cause of the accident was failure to provide support so that the section of frame work being removed would not fall and could be lowered progressively.

Copper Range Company

Order No. 7804968 was issued on February 26, 1998, under the provisions of Section 103k of the Mine Act to protect miners pending an investigation by MSHA to identify any possible hazards to miners.

This order was terminated on March 11, 1998 after MSHA completed its investigation and determined no hazards to miners existed.

Related Fatal Alert Bulletin:
Fatal Alert Bulletin Icon FAB98M09