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Blasting accident at Callaghan Valley worksite claims one life

RCMP, Worksafe B.C., and coroner's office all investigating rare accident



Mike Greer had done some of the most dangerous jobs in construction and was well thought of by his peers.

"He had been doing this for 20 years and he knew what he was doing," said Dewey McLellan, a blaster and site superintendent currently working in Lillooet who had worked with Greer in the past.

"He was totally qualified."

Greer, 45, was killed Monday by a blasting accident on a road under construction for access to an Olympic venue just south of the resort.

"He was a gentleman, a very fine person, he fit right in with the boys, he never backed off a job," said McLellan of the divorced father of two.

The RCMP, Worksafe B.C., the Ministry of Transportation and the contractor for the $12 million road construction project, Murrin Construction, are all investigating the accident.

Specifics of the cause of the blast are not being released, but RCMP Cst. Jeff Levine said that the site was guarded overnight as there was still dynamite at the site that was to be set off yesterday as part of the measures to make the work site safe.

"One of the priorities is making the site safe," said Levine.

Greer was a member of the Christian Labour Association of Canada. North Vancouver’s Murrin Construction has been a member of CLAC since 2004.

McLellan said Greer had worked as a highway rock scaler as well as a blaster and a driller.

"I call those guys (scalers) the dancers with death," he said. "(Greer) was a good scaler. I mean he would hang 400 or 500 feet over the Fraser Canyon."

Getting a ‘ticket’ to blast from the Workers Compensation Board is no easy task said McLellan. Blasters have to apprentice for an extended period and then be vouched for by peers in the business as well.

"(Greer) knew exactly what he was doing, there was no ifs, ands, or buts about it. This guy has been doing it since he was 20 years old but something happened," said McLellan.

"I started doing this when I was 15 and I’m 57 now and I’m still doing it. But I can honestly tell you that on many occasions there are times when you are just lucky to still be here.

"This is a great loss. I feel for the family and friends and our brothers. You know when you get up in the morning and you put on your rigging you never know what the day will bring. Sometimes you just don’t come back."

Blasting accidents are relatively rare said McLellan since safety is such a high priority.

"(Worksafe) will tell us exactly what happened," he said.

"They are really strict on the blasting.

"Something unforeseen happened and I would like to know myself so that I can check that one next time I go back doing it.

"This is a freaky one."

The accident happened just before 1 p.m. There were no other injuries. The RCMP Explosive Devices Unit was also on scene and airspace above the accident scene was closed to air traffic on the day of the accident.

The road upgrade is a $12 million Ministry of Transportation project started last September by Murrin. No one with the company would comment on the incident.

The road will give access to the Whistler Nordic Centre, the site of cross-country, biathlon, ski jumping and combined events for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The funding is not part of the venues budget.

The upgrade is due to finish in the fall of 2007.

It’s believed the victim was killed during blasting, as the crew got ready for bridge building in the Callaghan Creek area. The accident happened during a work operation and blasting had been going on all day.

Maureen Douglas, Whistler spokesperson for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, said it is premature to be concerned about any delays in construction due to the accident.

"We would eventually be in consultation with (the Ministry) but at this point in time that is absolutely not our concern," she said.

"It is to give them whatever support to ensure they have a safe workplace and they can move forward after dealing with the issue."

John Furlong, Vancouver 2010 Chief Executive Officer was equally somber in his response.

"We are tremendously saddened by the news of the tragic accident today on the access road under construction to the Whistler Nordic Centre in the Callaghan Valley," he said.

"The thoughts and prayers of our entire Vancouver 2010 team are with the families, friends and co-workers of the individual involved in today’s tragedy."

Said Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Mike Long: "We send our condolences to the family and co-workers involved. It is obviously a tragic event and we hope the investigation can get to the bottom of what happened and we can go from there."