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Geologist falls to death in mine shaft

Dec, 10 2008

(HANCOCK, Michigan) - A fall at the Quincy Mine Hoist Shaft Saturday proved fatal for a volunteer at the shaft, who was also an associate professor of geology at Michigan Technological University.

According to a written statement from the Houghton County Sheriff's Office, William J. Gregg, 60, was attempting to install emergency ladders in the mine shaft when he fell 225 feet and landed on an object.

Responding to the accident at about 2:15 p.m. were Houghton County Sheriff's deputies, the Calumet Fire and Rescue Department, the Quincy-Franklin Fire Department, Calumet Township Fire and Rescue Department, Boston Fire Department, Mercy Ambulance, the Hancock Police Department, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Superior Service wrecker units, Houghton City Public Works, Julio Contracting, the American Red Cross, the Houghton County Mine Inspector and various volunteers.

Members of the Calumet Township Fire and Rescue Department rappelled down the shaft in an attempt to get to Gregg. He was declared dead at the scene and transported to Portage Health where an autopsy will be performed to determine the extent of his injuries.

Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean said the details of the accident are uncertain.

"All we know is he fell," McLean said.

Although Gregg stopped a total of 225 feet from the point in the shaft where he was working, the shaft is slanted at a 55-degree angle, so he may have tumbled much of that distance.

"It's not like he fell straight down," he said.

Early in the rescue, McLean said a crew was sent to an entrance to the mine shaft on Mason Street in Hancock, which is about 450 feet into the shaft, but it was determined entering from the surface in the shaft house would work best.

McLean said Houghton County Mine Inspector Murray Gilles is still investigating the incident to determine exactly what happened, including if Gregg was using a harness or safety line during his work.

McLean said all rescue units had cleared the scene by 7:30 p.m.

In a written statement, John Sullivan, secretary of the Quincy Mine Hoist Association, wrote Gregg was a QMHA board member for the past several years, and he often volunteered on maintenance, operation and safety issues at the site.

Tech spokeswoman Marcia Goodrich said Gregg was active intellectually, but also a good person, and his loss will be felt throughout the university.

"I can't tell you how shocked we are," she said. "This is terrible."

Jimmy Diehl, Tech professor of geology, said he and Gregg started their careers as faculty at Tech 30 years ago.

"We came to Michigan Tech together in 1979," Diehl said. "We were newly installed professors at that time."

Diehl said Gregg used the mine as part of his instruction.

"That mine served as a classroom for many of his classes," he said.

Diehl said Gregg was a very good instructor, and many of his students received national awards for their master's theses.

"They were some of the best produced at Tech," he said.

Replacing Gregg in the classroom will be very difficult, Diehl said.

"Our students are going to lose a lot of expertise with him gone," he said.

Wayne Pennington, chairman of the Tech Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Science, said he conducts exit interviews with students in the department, and most of them have very good things to say about Gregg.

"For the last three years, those students have said universally he was the best teacher they had," Pennington said. "He'll be missed. We don't know how we'll fill the void."

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