Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- An Idaho miner trapped underground nine days ago most likely was buried when the collapse occurred and is presumed to be dead, mining company officials said Sunday.

Hecla Mining Company President Phil Baker said that after days of an around-the-clock rescue effort, officials now believe 53-year-old Larry Marek did not survive the collapse inside the Lucky Friday Mine on April 15.

"We now believe that Larry was under the fall of ground when it occurred," Baker said in a video posted Sunday on Hecla's website.

He added, "Words cannot express the deep sorrow we feel at the tragic loss of Larry."

The announcement follows more than a week of to reach the miner caught in the cave-in more than a mile underground. By Sunday, officials had determined he could not have survived.

"Based on crew observations of the area where the fall of ground occurred and crewmember experience in similar situations, we believe Larry is deceased," company spokeswoman Stefany Bales said.

She said the rescue mission is now a recovery operation, and that Marek's family had been told of the change late Saturday.

Marek and his brother, Mike, had just finished watering down blasted-out rock and ore in the mine when the ceiling collapsed in the 6,150-foot deep tunnel. Mike Marek escaped unharmed.

Rescue efforts included an attempt to dig through the collapsed tunnel and building a second intersecting tunnel, but the first effort was stopped by dangerous conditions and work on the second tunnel slowed as crews encountered increasingly difficult conditions that required a special tunneling technique to prevent the new tunnel from collapsing.

Then drill holes sent forward Saturday to probe conditions at the end of the tunnel -- where they hoped to find an open area where Marek was working -- found only sand and rubble. Officials said that indicated the entire tunnel collapsed leaving no space in which the miner might have found refuge.

"Right now we are 100 percent committed to moving forward with a recovery," Bales said.

The company said it's not clear how long that will take.

No cause has been established for the cave-in.

"Once the recovery effort is complete we'll begin an in-depth investigation to discover how and why this happened, and what we can do to prevent it from ever happening again," Baker said.

Company spokeswoman Melanie Hennessey said the last fatality at the mine occurred in 1986.

The mine shut down production to concentrate on the rescue effort, and Hennessey said it would remain shut down during the recovery operation.

The Marek family has not spoken with reporters since the cave-in.

Hecla is the largest silver producer in the nation, from the Lucky Friday and the Greens Creek mine in Alaska.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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