The Galore Creek Mine project is located in a very remote area of northwestern British Columbia and development work was done by Nova Gold Resources of Vancouver. The mine project comprised one of the largest and highest grade undeveloped porphyry-related gold-silver-copper deposits in North America. In order to access the mine site a new 120 km road was planned to be constructed including a 4.4 km mine access road tunnel. Glaciers with heavy snow pack cover approximately two-thirds of the tunnel alignment with a maximum cover of 1,200 m. The size of the access road tunnel was to be about 50 m2 and was designed as a large single lane road tunnel to accommodate the transport of large size mining equipment for mine start up and ongoing operations. The rock conditions along the tunnel alignment comprised very strong volcanic rocks. Structural portal canopies were incorporated into the tunnel design due to the risk of rockfalls and avalanches in the portal areas. The mine access road tunnel were a significant and critical-path component to the overall project to provide vehicular access to allow construction of the mine site. In order to meet the expected mine start up date the construction of the tunnel works were to commence prior to any other works at the mine site and were to be constructed entirely by helicopter support. Geotechnical investigations commenced in the summer of 2006 with the removal of the overburden materials at the portals to assess bedrock conditions. Tunnel construction from both portals was expected to commence in the spring of 2007. If completed the mine access road tunnel would have been the longest private road tunnel in North America. The project was suspended January 1, 2008 due to Cost issues.
Editor's note: The following narrative was generously provided to my by a workman who worked on the Galore Creek Gold and Copper mine project who took the photos.
This is a Russian Mil MI-26 Helicopter working on the (now suspended) Galore creek gold and copper mine in Northwestern BC . I'll give you a little info on the project first... This mine was to be built in a short time yet it's about 60 miles away from the nearest road. For reasons unknown to me it was decided to build the mine, tailings dam, and road all at the same time, and building the road was to take place in many sections at a time. The project had a budget of 2 BILLION dollars but later cost reviews projected a cost of $5.5 Billion by the time the mine was up and running and it was decided that this would cut into the profit margin too much so they put the project on hold. By this time they had flown in 5 camps to various locations along the proposed roadway, countless pieces of machinery were flown in to all these camps and started building the road in both directions, the main camp had equipment as large as D10 cats, an EX800 Hitachi excavator, many pieces of tunneling equipment for an 8 mile tunnel, several 100+ ton cranes to build bridges along the way, etc. Everything from the kitchen utensils to these large machines were flown in by different size helicopters. No wonder they blew their budget!
That's where this MI-26 came in. It was used to lift all the large and heavy items that the north american built machines couldn't move. It's hook was rated by Transport Canada to carry 44000 lbs. and that's what it did. The closest north american machine was the Boeing Vertol 234 Chinook which can lift about 20000lbs. I had the opportunity to watch this monstrosity move equipment in and out of one of the camps I was working at. The first thing that would happen is that there would be a lot of commotion around camp as people heard it was coming. Sometime later you would hear a very distinct noise come from behind that hill over there. It would bring 2 tandem axle Western Star tanker trucks. One was a water truck to water the staging area down, the other was a fuel truck to keep it's thirst quenched. While it was working, a smaller helicopter, usually a Bell 205 would be kept busy running back and forth with a small fuel bladder keeping the truck topped off.
The main rotor on this behemoth has 8 blades and turns at 108 RPM. I'm not sure what the rotor diameter is but it's easily in excess of 100 feet. The tail rotor, which is bigger than the main rotor of many helicopters, has 5 electrically de-iced blades and turns at approximately 900 RPM. Then there are 2 massive turboshaft engines putting out approximately 11200 HP each giving it a total of about 22400 HP! The exhaust ducts are large enough that you could crawl inside the engine. All the cowls folded down into work platforms so that the engineers could wander around and service the aircraft and engines without difficulty. A third auxiliary engine was used to start the main engines.
To fly this thing there was a crew of 5 people. There would be the Pilot and Co-Pilot, a flight engineer who handled the systems, a navigator/radio operator and in the back by the cargo hook would be a load master. Since this machine is much to big for traditional long lining (vertical reference) the pilots get their input on where to put the load from the loadmaster in the back. The cargo hook is mounted in a hole in the floor that the load master can look down. They equipped the machine with a rather short 70 foot set of heavy cables. The loadmaster would look through the hole in the floor and tell the pilots which way to go and up or down as required. He also had a big red release handle if things went from bad to worse.
One day they had to wait for a load to be prepared for them so they shut down in the camp we were at and of course curiosity took over and we went over to the thing. "Welcome! Clean your shoes!" was our greeting from the russians. They were very eager to show us their helicopter. The cavernous cabin inside has 2 overhead hoists rated at 5000 lbs each so that cargo doesn't have to be rolled along the floor. The back opens up to reveal a large ramp and you can drive a very large vehicle inside with ease. The tail rotor driveshaft is exposed at the top of the cabin and it is about 6 inches in diameter in sections about 6 feet long with huge steady bearings at the end of each section. Some of the bolts have longer heads than others and I assume this is what they use to balance the shaft. The tailboom is large enough to crawl inside and it does indeed have a catwalk to the very back where there is a gigantic 42 degree gearbox to take the shaft up the inclined vertical fin to the tailrotor. The Cargo hook is in the floor and there is a plexiglass window and a crude seat for the load master to sit on. He told me that the machine routinely lifts 60000 lbs but that in Canada they were restricted to 44000 lbs. Wandering forwards in the cabin you then find on the left side a built in water heater, or Tea kettle as they called it, and on the right side, get this, a hotplate to cook your lunch with!!! "We can cook whole turkey on this thing" is what they told me! They said that on long flights they stick an extra tank in the cargo area and stay aloft for up to 7 or 8 hours at a time. "In 8 hours you get hungry" they said. The cockpit is actually kinda cramped for a machine this big. There are all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, dials, switches, levers, etc. in there. All of the labeling is in russian so figuring out what they were was difficult to say the least.
The helicopter is so big I'd equate it to a 737 that can hover. Indeed when it shows up it makes so much downwash that some trees would uproot! Indeed 1 inch and smaller rocks readily take flight when it comes in to pick something up. The ground crew wore full face motorcycle style helmets with intercom systems so they could communicate with the crew in the helicopter. Those poor bastards had to grab on to something really big and heavy when the helicopter showed up otherwise they'd go for a ride. With only a 70 foot line it got quite near the ground and the debris it could kick up, even when everything was wetted down, was still amazing. No wonder people would run for anything with an enclosed cab when this thing appeared.