Race on to rescue missing miners

2014-02-05 14:16

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Johannesburg - Emergency workers were racing on Wednesday to rescue nine miners still missing deep underground in a burning gold mine west of Johannesburg.

However, mine owner Harmony Gold said the rescue mission was being hampered by smoke and the precarious situation after the collapse of rocks.

Nine of the 17 workers initially trapped by the blaze are still missing, the company said, after eight were rescued from an underground refuse bay earlier on Wednesday.

The fire broke out about 1.7km beneath the surface at the Doornkop mine at 18:00 on Tuesday, and may have been triggered by a seismic event.

"The rescue teams are continuing to try to locate the other individuals who are unaccounted for - there are still nine employees who are unaccounted for," company spokesperson Charmane Russell said.

"All the focus right now is on trying to locate the missing men," the company said in a statement, adding that the rescue effort was being hampered by "smoke and a subsequent fall of ground".

Seismic event

The National Union of Mineworkers said a 2.4 magnitude seismic event - perhaps an earthquake - triggered a chain reaction that led to the blaze.

"It resulted in the collapse of underground rocks which caused damage to ventilation pipes, electric cables and water pipes," the union said.

"The damage to electric cables triggered fire underground which is still burning."

"We pray for those workers who are still missing to come out healthy and alive," said the union's health and safety official Erick Gcilitshana.

"We appeal to the rescue teams to do their best to fast-track the operation of searching especially that the compressed air and water pipes are affected."

Despite efforts to reduce accidents, they are still common in South Africa's ultra-deep gold and platinum mines.

Some 128 people were killed in 2010, according to the latest figures published by local NGO Miningsafety.co.za.

Locating miners is often a race against time. Many large mines use helmet-based transmitter systems to ensure rapid recovery.

Operations at the Doornkop mine have been suspended.

The single-shaft mine operates on the Kimberley and South Reefs up to two kilometres deep.

The mine produced 3 631 kilograms of gold in 2013.

Read more on:    num  |  harmony gold  |  johannesburg  |  mining  |  search and rescue
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