r If you have ever taken your ATV or 4X4 on the trails in the Five Mile Pass area you may have heard about or even seen the vertical mine near the top of Rattlesnake Canyon at what used to be the Sunshine Mine. Above the mine tailings are two vertical shafts, one goes down 90 feet and the other is rumored to go down 1,200 feet. Both mine shafts are now covered with a rebar grate. You can look into the north shaft and see the tailgate, axle and tire of a Jeep lodged about 50 feet below. The accident occurred 23 years ago on February 5, 1995, when two young guys were out playing in the mud of an unusually warm day. They went left around a tree and suddenly found themselves in a black hole. The Jeep was a 1956 Willy’s Pickup owned by 21-year-old Mark Hoefnagel. It had been modified with a 12-inch lift to accommodate 35 inch Super Swampier tires along with some engine modifications to spin those tires. His passenger was 23-year-old Tony Ballif. Both men survived and now live in Florida.
The odds of finding that hole in the ground that the Jeep would fall into in its entirety sounds impossible in itself. It was almost a perfect fit and had the Jeep not been modified with a 12-inch lift and external roll bar it may have gone further down the shaft. Vehicles of that vintage did not have seat belts and Mark was thrown violently against the steering wheel. He was initially knocked unconscious. Tony was hit hard, but conscious enough to realize there was an electrical fire he needed to resolve. Tony’s yelling for help got the attention of some off-roaders passing nearby, Kent and Michelie Ashton and their friend Greg Seybold. Michelie drove to Fairfield to call 911 while Kent and Greg tried to figure out how to rescue the guys in the Jeep. They lowered a chain-link fence with metal post tied to it as a ladder. Mark and Tony were out of the hole about five minutes before Tooele and Utah County rescue teams arrived around 10 PM.
Mark was in the hospital for six days with a ruptured spleen and Tony was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital that night. For both men, it was the realization of a near-death experience. A realization that they had better start doing something worthwhile with the life they had been given. Mark once had a personalized license plate that read “B-N-Rowdy.”
Both men went to college, established themselves with good careers, and are now pursuing a good life in their mid-40’s. Both men emphasize today that it was a life-changing event for them and it is easy to understand why. In looking at the current picture of his Jeep in the mine shaft Mark is amazed at how much rock and beverage cans have been thrown in on it. In conclusion, so much for a great Jeep and on to a great life.