First Trip to Bottom of the Slide
By April 21, the Keystone access road was opened and a trip was arranged for the MSHA inspector and various company representatives to take a trip down to the hairpin turn near the Code 30 area to determine what was going to be needed to reopen access into the ore operations. Besides safety, operations, and environmental representatives.
I joined the trip to offer an engineering perspective. This was the first excursion to the bottom of the pit by MSHA and most of the managers since the night of the Manefay failure.
The first portion of the trip was interesting because of all the switchbacks going down the Keystone access road. More than half of the 13 hairpin turns required three-point turns (see Figure 3.4) for the vehicle to traverse the route down to where it connected to the 10% haul road. Travelling to the 10% haul road was an uneventful, yet odd, journey. It was not until we got partway down the 10% haul road that I began to realize that the strange feeling was because there was no other traffic on the road. In the mine, there is always traffic on the major haul road, but that day was eerily different.
When we rounded the final corner at Code 30, we were able to catch glimpses of where the Manefay had failed, but we did not get the full effect until we exited the vehicle. Once out, it was almost scary. From our vantage point, we could see the debris material that filled the bottom of the pit. Looking up toward the top of the head scarp—nearly ½ mile up and 1½ miles away—the view was absolutely breathtaking! The Manefay left an enormous void where just a few days ago had been solid rock. The dramatic colors of the debris flow going down the slope made a sharp and unforgettable contrast to the normal tint of the pit. Standing there, the hair on the back of my neck started to rise, one of those natural voices that warns us of dangerous situations and to be careful. Looking back and talking with others, it was not just the visual aspect of the Manefay that was spooky; it was also the sound—or lack of it. Working in a large mine, there is always noise. There is always equipment operating somewhere or radios blaring. This time there was almost total quiet, with the exception of our own conversations, and at first no one was saying much. Between the visual aspect of the gigantic landslide rising more than half a mile above and the lack of sound where there has always been noise before, it made for an unforgettable experience.
Figure 3.5 is the view from my first trip to the bottom of the pit before we started ore operations. This location is—surprisingly—600 feet above what should have been the bottom of the pit. The Manefay debris is piled up in front, near the bottom of the photo. Although I had seen aerial photos and had stood at the top and looked down from various angles around the pit, this view looking up at the Manefay really had an impact. Walking down that road to the debris pile, I remember thinking, “Oh, my God! What are we going to do?” Bingham Canyon Mine always makes me feel small, but the sight of looking up at the Manefay really brought home just how large the Manefay event really was as well as the magnitude of the recovery efforts to come.
Setting Impossible Targets
After discussions about the status, work locations, and EAP, the topic of getting back into production was brought up. It was at this point that Matt told us that a decision had been made by Kennecott’s senior leadership that our target was to have the Cornerstone area back in production by the end of the day. It was almost mid-morning already and the reaction of the Mine Management Team, including me, was—“Are you crazy! Don’t you know that we just went through a major event and people are in shock? Plus, we are under the MSHA 103(k) Order, so we could not start operations if we wanted to.” Almost everyone believed that this was an impossible goal.
After listening to the ranting and raving of what could not be done, the response from Matt, and supported by Anna, was: “We understand. But the goal is still to be in operation by the end of the day, so what are we going to do about it?” After more back-and-forth dialog, as well as another reminder of what the goal was, the discussion started to change from what could not be done to what was needed to start up the Cornerstone area.
Cornerstone was not affected by the slide. It was safe, and none of the equipment was damaged. So we started to ask questions: What did we need to do to get the 103(k) Order lifted from just the Cornerstone area? How do we inform people of the plan and get them to the work area? How could we make the electrical power more reliable? For each of these issues, we started to make plans or set up teams to make the plans to be back into production by the end of the day.
When talking to many employees later about how they felt when the Manefay happened, they compared it to having their house burn down or losing a family member. In this one meeting on April 12, it seemed as if many of the managers went through the five stages of grief or loss (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in a short period of time. By the end of the meeting, there was a remarkable turnaround, and I believe it was a critical turning point for the Bingham Canyon Mine. It was in this one meeting that the Mine Management Team went from shock and disbelief that a seemingly impossible target was set, to acceptance of a plan and the determination to get it done.
During the next several months, this pattern of setting difficult targets, experiencing disbelief, making a plan, and reaching for the target happened over and over again. But it all started with the first goal of getting Cornerstone back into production. This one decision of setting a seemingly impossible target changed what we did as a company, how we did it, and more importantly, what we believed we could do.
The decision to set the Cornerstone target and change the direction of the company for the next several months was made by Kennecott’s Kelly Sanders, the president and chief executive officer, and Stephane Leblanc, the chief operating officer. It was not accidental that such a difficult target was set that resulted in a significant change in the culture of the company. Both men had made a career of changing company cultures and knew that we needed a goal to rally around. They also knew that Kennecott needed to quickly show success to regain the confidence of Rio Tinto, the community, the employees, and the rest of industry. Many had written off Kennecott as a total loss, and the only way to change that perception was to get back in business as soon as possible. So with one significant decision, these two men not only changed the culture of the company, they changed how the rest of the world looked at Kennecott as a viable company.