Pretoria - Families of three mine employees stuck underground at Vantage Goldfields’ Lily Mine may have to wait another six months before they can finally receive closure on the fate of their loved ones.
The mining company’s chief executive Mike McChesney announced that the rescue mission for Solomon Nyerende, Yvonne Mnisi and Pretty Nkambule will have to be approached from a different direction after numerous consultations with five international geotechnical experts who have surveyed the mine and suggested the move.
“This incident was much bigger and more complex than we originally anticipated. It happened suddenly - without warning and without expectation,” said McChesney.
Mine management had consulted with university heads and heads of two South African mining schools at the site of the collapse. They were amazed at the complexity and magnitude of the problem.
“If you take that into account... that explains why we have gone to such lengths in the past two weeks to solicit the opinions of experts for advice on the decision that we have taken. We have no doubt the decision that we’re making is the right one. We think this is going to take as much as six months. It’s a safe option and has the best chance of recovering the container and its occupants,” he said.
McChesney was addressing journalists at the Department of Mineral Resources in Pretoria where, in conjunction with Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, he gave an update on the latest rescue mission developments. “The specialists have advised us there is one option - to approach the container from a new entrance to the underground mine.
“This entrance will be located far from the sinkhole, in good geologically stable ground. It will be a very safe option. It will take some time, but it is the best and the quickest option we can implement,” said McChesney.
Nyerende, Mnisi, and Nkambule are believed to have been trapped in a lamp-room container that sank during the collapse on February 5.
The mission to locate and rescue the trio has been plagued by setbacks. The first hurdle was when a second section of the mine collapsed eight days into the rescue mission. This was followed by a rockfall a day later. These setbacks complicated the rescue mission as the main shaft was compromised after the second rockfall.
The mine’s ground was then regarded unstable as experts could still determine ground movement.
Although the operation has continued for a prolonged period, families of the trio said they have to accept the decision taken if they wish to see their loved ones again.
“We thought they would eventually give up due to funding, but through the grace of minister Zwane, they will at least be able to continue with the operation,” said Solomon’s father, Kennedy Nyerende.
“The families are not as shocked by the incident but it is painful to know the condition of your child,” he said. Nyerende said they were told that the mission would take between six to eight months. “They said it would take about six months to drill and another six to eight weeks to locate the container,” he said.
However, Nkambule’s cousin, Jabulani Mazibuko, said they received the news with sadness as that would certainly spell the end for their loved ones. “We are discouraged. It’s hard.”
The trio were trapped underground when the lamp room container fell into a sinkhole created by a collapsed crown pillar before being covered by huge rocks.