published Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Man dies after falling into Nev. mine shaft

RENO, Nev. — A father of five children has died after falling into a mine shaft so deep and treacherous that rescuers had to abandon efforts to reach him while he was still alive, officials said Saturday.

Devin Westenskow, 28, of Evanston, Wyo., worked at a geothermal drilling operation in Nevada and had gone exploring Wednesday with two friends during his off-hours when he fell 190 feet into the open shaft northeast of Reno, authorities said.

His family thanked rescue workers in a statement.

“We feel they did everything possible to rescue Devin, but that there was no way to get him out alive given the extent of his injuries and instability of the mine shaft,” the statement said. “We are forever grateful for their efforts.”

The decision to end the rescue came after two unsuccessful attempts by search teams to descend into the shaft, where Westenskow was trapped in debris, said Doran Sanchez, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman.

An attempt Thursday caused walls of the 100-plus-year-old shaft to crumble and rocks to fall on rescuers, he said.

“One individual was hit in the head by falling rock and it split his hard hat,” Sanchez said. “You’re talking about two of the best search and rescue squads in Nevada, and they finally determined there was no way they could safely rappel down.”

Westenskow was given his last rites Friday. He was pronounced dead at 12:30 p.m. that day, after the Pershing County coroner’s office determined he had stopped breathing by reviewing images from a video camera they had lowered into shaft, Sanchez said.

Word of the death was not released until Saturday because there was no cell phone service in the remote area for authorities to stay in contact.

“The family feels that if Jesus Christ was buried in a tomb, it’s good enough for Devin,” his grandmother, Lois Westenskow of Layton, Utah, told The Associated Press.

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