Pretoria – Efforts to recover three mineworkers trapped underground at a Mpumalanga mine for more than a month could take as long as six months due to the complexities of the operation.
This was according to Vantage Goldfields Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mike McChesney who was briefing media Thursday on the latest on the situation regarding the fate of Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Nkambule and Solomon Nyerende.
McChesney said the operation to retrieve the container that the three were trapped in could take up to six months.
McChesney said the Lily Mine recovery operation team was advised by internationally-recognised geo-technical experts in the last two weeks that the only option to approach the container which was used as a lamp room when it sank down a sinkhole early in February, was through a new entrance point to the ground mine.
According to the Vantage Goldfields CEO, the specialists advised that there should be a new entrance located on a stable ground, away from the sinkhole to prevent any further compromise of lives.
He further said that this option given to them was the only “best and quickest” to implement at this stage.
“We have assessed the situation and the specialists have advised us that there is only one option to approach the container and its occupants, which is our primary objective to recover. We would recover it from a new entrance to the ground mine.
“This entrance will be located far away from the sinkhole in a good geologically stable ground, it would be a very safe option and I know that it would take some time, but is the best and the quickest option that we can implement,” he said.
Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said that after much consultation with the mine and the mining experts, his department was satisfied that the option given to the recovery team was the safest and one which would not compromise other lives during the process of bringing the container to the surface.
Furthermore, McChesney said that over the past few weeks they had recognised that the incident was bigger and more complex than they had initially thought.
“The incident happened suddenly without any warning or expectation. We have a number of university professors, heads of the country’s two mining schools on site and the both have been amazed by the complexity and the magnitude of the problem we now face. If you take that into account, that explains why we have gone into such length in the last two weeks to solicit the opinions of very qualified and experienced people to give us advise on the decisions we thought and had no doubt that is the right one.”
Although the Lily Mine management was initially optimistic that the recovery team would find the mineworkers alive, both Zwane and McChesney said hopes had faded due to the time lapse between the first incident on February 5, and the second incident when there was a further shaft collapse during the rescue operation leading to the suspension of the rescue mission.