16 February 2014

South Africa: Rescue Operations Suspended At Benoni Mine

Photo: photosmith2011
Typical tunnel at Mopani Copper Mine.

Johannesburg — Rescue operations to bring illegal miners trapped underground at an abandoned mine in Benoni on the East Rand, have been suspended because the miners did not want to come up, paramedics said on Sunday.

"Rescue operations were stopped shortly before 7pm. After the 11 illegal miners have been brought up, the rest heard that they would be arrested and said they did not want to come back up," ER 24 spokesman Werner Vermaak said.

"The men refuse to come up and have become quiet and it is too dangerous for rescue workers to go down."

He said ER 24 would not return on Monday until the miners indicate that they were ready to come up.

Private security companies and the police remain at the shaft overnight, he said.

Ekurhuleni emergency services would also not return on Monday.

Vermaak said it was not safe for the illegal miners to stay underground.

He said food and water were sent down earlier on Sunday, so the men can stay hydrated.

There was enough oxygen for the men, he said.

"However, it remains unsafe and the shaft can fall at any minute."

Eleven illegal miners have been brought to the surface.

The group went through a medical assessment and no injuries were reported so far, Vermaak said at the time.

At least 200 illegal miners were believed to be trapped.

Earlier, Vermaak said rescue teams were able to speak to about 30 of the miners trapped near the top of the old mine shaft.

"Approximately 30 people are trapped towards the top of the old shaft and the rest down a steep tunnel."

Those near the top had told the rescue services that about 200 people were in the tunnel.

The miners were found on Sunday while emergency services were conducting operations around illegal mining in the area. They heard screaming from the abandoned mine.

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