ELKO COUNTY, Nev. (TheStreet) -- Barrick Gold (ABX) has shut down its Meikle underground mine as it investigates a possibly deadly accident that occurred Thursday morning.

Details remain fuzzy, but around 1:15 a.m. local time Thursday, two workers at the Meikle mine, located in northeast Nevada, were inside a 1,300-foot-deep ventilation shaft when a large pipe that they were inspecting somehow failed, according to Barrick spokesman Louis Schack. The pipe failure damaged the elevator that the men had used to access the shaft.

Barrick hasn't yet confirmed any deaths, though a company executive, Greg Lang, told the

Associated Press

on Thursday, "What we do know about the incident is not encouraging."

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is leading the "recovery effort," as well as an investigation into the accident. The MSHA has been much criticized in the wake of the

Massey Energy

(MEE)

coal-mine disaster in West Virginia in April, when 29 miners died in an explosion.

Barrick didn't say when operations would reopen at Meikle, where five workers have died in various accidents since 1996, according to the

Reno Gazette-Journal

.

The Meikle mine, part of Barrick's Goldstrike property, which employs more than 1,500 people, is one of the world's largest underground gold mines, with proven reserves of some 1.46 million ounces. The Goldstrike property as a whole -- which includes an open-pit mine as well as a second underground mine, called Rodeo -- produced about 1.35 million ounces of gold in 2009, though its output has been on the wane over the last few years as ore grades at the site deteriorate.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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