We will get Lily Mine workers out, alive or not - Minister Zwane

2016-02-24 14:07
Lily Mine. (AFP)

Lily Mine. (AFP)

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Cape Town - Everything possible is being done to rescue the three people still trapped in the Lily Mine in Mpumalanga, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said on Wednesday.

''We are interested in a mission that will get the container out, with the people, whether living or not living,'' Zwane said after he and his department briefed Parliament's portfolio committee on mineral resources in Cape Town.

Lampsman Solomon Nyerende and lamproom assistants Yvonne Mnisi and Pretty Nkambule had been trapped under about 80m of rock since part of the mine collapsed on February 5.

They were in a shipping container used as a lamp room on the surface when a central, or crown pillar, collapsed around level four of the mine near Barberton. The container disappeared into the resulting sinkhole.

Seventy-five miners underground at the time were rescued through a ventilation shaft less than one metre wide. Two subsequent ground collapses, on February 13 and 14, forced rescuers to put on hold efforts to get the three out.

This was the first time that people on the surface ended up underground during an accident, the committee was told. Usually the miners were already underground when an accident occurred.

Successful Chilean operation

Zwane said drilling with a machine similar to the rig used to save Chilean miners in 2010 had started boring a 600mm diameter hole to reach them. It was expected to reach level 5, at a depth of about 80m, in two to three weeks.

On August 5, 2010, 33 miners were trapped underground when a mine collapsed in Chile. Twelve days later rescuers received message via a probe that they were alive. They all reached the surface safely after a massive operation.

At Lily Mine, a metal detector would be used to help find the container.

Zwane would return to the mine on Thursday to monitor progress and to see if anything could be done. He said perhaps the workflow and hours worked could be tweaked because everybody involved in the rescue wanted to get the three out fast.

''We know currently there is no ventiliaton there, no water. We understand those issues. But our task is to ensure the container is recovered,'' he said.

Families taking strain

Their families were taking strain. Their children had had to endure taunts of ''your parents are dead'' at school. They had been missing classes and joined relatives camping next to the mine.

Zwane did not want to discuss any of the details of the investigation, or when last there had been a sign of life, considering it too sensitive for everybody involved.

Lily Mine is situated in the Mjindini local municipality and is owned by Vantage Goldfields, which is listed on the Australian stock exchange.

Illegal mining took place there before Zwane's predecessors helped regularise operations.

Around 647 workers were employed there. Zwane said nothing would happen at the mine until the rescue had been completed. Workers were being paid in the meantime.

The last safety inspection at the mine was on January 12, following a fatality on January 5, the committee heard.

Read more on:    cape town  |  parliament 2016  |  lily mine collapse

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