What it takes to be a mine manager at a fly-in, fly-out camp

I have not posted on this blog the past few days.  The reason:  I was at a fly-in, fly-out camp where the internet connection is sporadic and they do not make it easy to access spurious blogs.   Plus the weather was terrible:  ice-rain in which planes could not fly.

I got in late due to weather.  We drove around the site to observe conditions in cold wind and frozen fear.  We reluctantly left the warmth of the truck, took photos, noted a few changes, and jumped back into the shelter of the truck.  Then we deliberated.  This is the sixth year of going to site; six years of bi-annual visits to plan further tailings deposition.   In the past there were panics; but now, all is well.   For we are good at anticipating problems and planning to avoid them.

[Lesson learnt: if you employ a consultant, keep them if they are good; let them become familiar with every detail; hear them; judge; and act proactively to the best of your judgement & their advice.]

The fun began when, on the second day, the freezing rain hit.  No planes could come in; no planes could leave.  Anxious miners, tired from two weeks on site and underground, could not leave to get home to Vancouver, Whistler, Quebec, Campbell River, Ontario, or any of the many distant places where they live their family lives.  Fresh workers could not get in.  Mining stopped and profits evaporated.

By the second day there were three hundred waiting to come in and three hundred waiting to get out.

The other two northern mines were not affected—the ice-rain came in a bitter swath over our mine and missed the other two.  This was a major point of discussion.

The mine manager (acting) convened a meeting in the canteen.  In firm, but I-am-sorry tones, he told the truth:  pilots cannot fly in such weather—that is the safe thing to do.

“I know you want to get home.  I know your loved ones await you.  I too want to get home for a weekend with the kids.  But we must respect safety first and the decision of the pilots.  There are now six hundred of us waiting to travel to work and to be with family.   Bear with us–we are doing all we can, but we are at the mercy of the weather.”

There was no tension in camp, as I would have expected.  People went to smoke, to play cards, to read, to sit & chat, to drink coffee & soda, and to email those waiting.

Then the weather broke.  The mine manager (acting) was ever-present in the waiting-lounge.  He spoke with all, joked with many, asked if he could help rearrange connecting flights. I chatted with him at the Yellowknife airport when he helped me find luggage put on the wrong plane.  He offered me a ride to town.

I spent an extra night in a cold hotel, but got home eventually.  I am not distressed.  Rather I have good memories of this event: patient miners, a concerned manager, solicitous plane people, and fun chatting with those that I would not normally chat to.

But most of all I carry away from this the image of an amazing mine manager: one who was involved in every detail; one who made people in distress feel special and cared for; and one who made things happen.