ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. - A well-known and avid rock hunter has died while mining for emeralds in Hiddenite.
Officials said Terry Lee Ledford, 56, of Spruce Pine, was killed when the hole where he was mining collapsed on top of him.
Rescue crews were called to the land off Hill River Road and Duncan Lane around 5:30 p.m. after the owner of the property called 911.
“I noticed a portion of the hole had collapsed,” said Lynn Sharpe, who owns the land. “I called his partner and that’s when I knew something was wrong.”
Officials said it’s unclear what exactly caused the hole to collapse and when it did. Ledford had gone mining alone and the last anyone spoke to him was around 3:15 p.m.
It took at least 40 firefighters and rescue workers to begin removing the fallen dirt from the hole, which officials determined was approximately 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep.
“We found a digging tool sticking up out of the dirt and that’s where we started our search efforts,” said Russell Greene, who is Alexander County’s Emergency Management Director.
Greene said Ledford was found about 4 feet underground at approximately 8:30 p.m.
“I just can’t believe it,” said James Moore, who lives nearby.
Ledford was an avid rock hunter. He made history when he discovered the largest emerald in the country several years ago, also in Hiddenite. The gem was 310 carats and later named the "Carolina Emperor."
Officials said Ledford and his wife lived in Spruce Pine.
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