False alarm at diversion tunnel
August 8, 2005
A crew working three miles into a water diversion tunnel in the Fryingpan Valley lost contact with outside support staff Monday morning and temporarily fueled concerns about an accident.Sturgeon Electric, which is working on the tunnel as a contractor for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, reported four missing employees in the Chapman Tunnel, about 25 miles east of Basalt in the mountains above Norrie Colony. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Basalt Fire Department were called to the scene.”Per the company’s safety procedures, every 20-minute interval the employees within the tunnel were to sound an air horn signifying that all was well,” said a news release from Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson. “The employees outside the tunnel notified the fire department (at 10:20 a.m.) that no contact or air horn had been heard since the four employees had entered the tunnel at 9:15.”The fire department responded with air packs with one-hour supplies, a vehicle that could travel within the tunnel and normal rescue and medical equipment. The sheriff’s office was in the process of contacting Delta County to inquire about the availability of a mine-rescue crew, according to Thompson.Before any search operation was mounted, the four employees emerged from the tunnel at 10:50 a.m. They reported that radio communications and the air-horn procedure failed at a distance of three miles, where they were working. No problems existed except the communication breakdown. New procedures were being put in place before employees would enter again, Thompson said.Chapman Tunnel is about 10-feet in diameter, large enough for crews to use small vehicles for work, according to a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation. Sturgeon Electric is installing fiber optic cable that will allow more accurate relaying of information about diversions. About 36 miles of fiber optic cable will be placed in the diversion network in the Fryingpan Valley.