When rescuers decided to abandon efforts to save Devin Westenskow after he fell into a mine shaft on Wednesday, it was “the hardest thing ever,” said his family in a statement. Even so, they understood why the decision was made. But not everyone is so understanding. "I have no doubt we could have pulled him out without a problem," says the owner of Gold Rush Expeditions. "I have been down shafts 200 or 300 feet and it's not a problem." One rescue worker’s hard hat had already been split by a falling rock before the attempt was called off.
And there’s no question mine rescue operations are inherently dangerous: 151 rescuers have died in 39 mine accidents in the US since 1869, and 17 of those deaths were just from three accidents that occurred since 2000, the AP reports. In situations like these, “you’re playing God in a sense,” says an officer of the United States Mine Rescue Association. “There's always someone who's saying, 'No, don't give up.’” The family was told that rescuers were able to get within about 50 feet of Westenskow before they had to pull back early Friday, the day he ultimately died, due to the hazards. Authorities now plan to seal the shaft. “The family feels that if Jesus Christ was buried in a tomb, it's good enough for Devin,” says his grandmother. Click for more on the tragedy. (Read more Devin Westenskow stories.)