By John Larson
SOCORRO – The body of a Magdalena man was recovered Friday night from an 65 foot mine shaft after being missing for over a month.
David Heiss, 53, was last seen July 22 by Deputy Marshal Ed Sweeney following a report of Heiss threatening two men with a firearm at his campsite above Patterson Canyon.
Magdalena Marshal Larry Cearley’s police report stated that on Wednesday, Aug. 26, Nester Martinez told him he found a makeshift cover built over the abandoned Mask Mine, and also spotted Heiss’ pickup high centered in an arroyo near the mine. Martinez said he went to the mine and found personal items including a rifle owned by Heiss.
Heiss had renamed the mine the “Iron Mask Mine.”
The report said that Cearley investigated Martinez’ statements, arriving at the mine, a quarter-mile from the dead end road at Patterson Canyon, at about 3:30 p.m.
Cearley found Heiss’ orange pickup truck stuck in an arroyo next to a tree, and noticed spider webs around the tires, indicating the truck had been there some time.
The pickup’s door was also open.
The report said that there was a campsite at the mine, which was a vertical shaft covered by several wooden planks making a frame. A bedroll was on the frame. Food was thrown about the area from animals.
Cearley saw a single rope attached to a log and the frame that stretched across the opening of the mine. The rope had been used by Heiss to lower himself down into the mine.
Cearley took a mirror and looked into the bottom of the vertical shaft, about 85 feet down.
He noticed the east wall of the shaft had fallen in, and with the mirror a white object was seen “which could have been Heiss.”
The east wall of the shaft had fallen into the shaft and the rope was stuck.
Cearley left the area and returned at about 6 p.m. with New Mexico State Police officer Steve Carter, who attempted to pull on the rope, which broke under the large rock that had fallen into the shaft.
The rope was pulled out and left on the outside of the shaft.
Before investigating the scene further, Cearley went back to town and checked Heiss’ residence at 1302 First St. in Magdalena. They found the doors padlocked from the outside and no sign of Heiss.
Heiss’ mother, Lucy Pino, said she had not seen her son for about a month, and that she was worried.
Carter then contacted Captain Randy Trujillo for a search and rescue mission.
Rescue and recovery personnel from several agencies, including the State Police dive team, and other personnel from as far away as Carlsbad and Questa.
New Mexico State Mine Inspector Terence Foreback and his staff also assisted with the recovery of Heiss. Foreback, whose office is under the auspices of New Mexico Tech, received a call August 27 from Cearley, requesting assistance.
“At that point we contacted the Bureau of Mine Safety at New Mexico Tech to begin a coordinated search of the shaft,” Cearley said. “We need to recognize those people. They really know what they’re doing.”
A press release from New Mexico Tech said that Foreback first contacted Robert Eveleth, senior mining engineer with the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at New Mexico Tech to obtain the history of the mine to ascertain what conditions could be expected.
Then, Foreback assembled experts for the purpose of examining the old shaft at the Iron Mask Mine to determine if Mr. Heiss had suffered an accident. Mine rescue personnel from several organizations were contacted for assistance: Chevron Mining Inc.’s Questa Mine, Carlsbad Waste Isolation Pilot Project, AML personnel from the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division AML Bureau in Santa Fe and search and rescue personnel from the National Park Service. These groups converged at the site Thursday, Aug. 27, and made preparations to begin exploring the mine shaft the following morning.
“The University of New Mexico owns a pickup truck with a hoist and cage that Dr. Scott Altenbach, bat biologist, uses to enter abandoned mine shafts for the purpose of internal mine bat surveys,” Foreback said. “Dr. Altenbach agreed to offer use of this truck for the search and possible recovery effort.”
Associate State Mine Inspector Chris Hefner was on site at 6 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28, to oversee the safety of the search and recovery operation.
“We lowered a National Park Service Search and Rescue member down into the mine in the basket of Dr. Altenbach’s hoist. He found the body about 65 feet down floating in water,” Hefner said. “A haz-mat team had to be called in, because of the biological hazard and gasses that may have been present at the bottom of the mine, and we contacted the State Police dive team.”
The dive team arrived on site Friday and recovered Mr. Heiss late in the afternoon.
“This was a very successful operation” said Hefner. “The cooperation between state and federal agencies, state and local law enforcement and private industry was remarkable. We hope to never have a rescue situation in the future, but we will be much better prepared if we do.”
The Iron Mask Mine was last operated in the 1930’s as a silver and copper operation and is on patented claims. The Iron Mask Mine is one of what could be hundreds of old mines in the Magdalena Mountains that haven’t been sealed off after they were abandoned.
Five weeks earlier was apparently the last time anyone had seen Heiss, Cearley said.
His report said that Addy Allen and Gary Edder had called him to report a fire burning in Patterson Canyon on July 22. The two men went ahead up to the area and found Heiss, who was irate. They said he ran them off and threatened them with a firearm.
Cearley and Deputy Marshal Ed Sweeney, along with Seventh District Attorney investigators R.D. Hayes and Levi Lovato, met Heiss in his parked pickup truck next to the mine shaft. Heiss told them he was planning on staking a claim on the mine, and showed Cearley a knotted rope he had fashioned to lower himself into the mine from a head-frame he built over the shaft. Heiss also had a bedroll over the mine shaft where he slept.
According to Socorro County Clerk Rebecca Vega, Heiss had filed a lode claim in 1989, but apparently for a manganese mine. Vega had no record of a claim for Heiss’ Iron Mask Mine.
After two days of preparation, Heiss’ body was recovered Friday afternoon.
Cearley said people must be careful when running across open mines.
“I can’t emphasize this too much. Mines are dangerous. Stay away from them,” he said. “The reason these mines are closed because there’s nothing in them, except a level of water at the bottom.”
Cearley said there are at least 100 open mines in the Magdalena Mountains.
“Even on the north side of town,” he said.
A memorial service for Heiss is scheduled for 11 a.m. this Saturday, Sept. 5, at Montosa Campground on Highway 60, west of Magdalena.