Sunday is exactly 36 days since a container used as a makeshift office by three mineworkers Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Mazibuko and Solomon Nyirenda was swallowed by a massive sinkhole at the Lily Mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga.
There are fears that each day the miners spend underground brings them closer to their deaths.
However, the families of the two women and a man refuse to give up hope.
If the Lily miners are brought to the surface alive, it won’t be the first time in the history of mining that trapped miners have come out after spending months under the surface.
An example is that of the Chilean mine disaster in August 2010, where 33 San Jose miners were trapped 2 300 feet underground after a mine collapse.
They made history when they were all rescued alive after more than two months trapped underground.
The Sunday Independent spoke to Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, of the Gift of the Givers, to explain factors that would have an impact on the survival of the three trapped miners, especially because they have had no access to water and food since the container went down.
“I have no experience in mining rescue operations but will relate the event to rescue efforts in earthquake situations. In our experience we managed to rescue Ena Zizi, 64, eight days after the earthquake in Haiti trapped (her) in the rubble of a church.
“She had no access to food, water, oxygen or any communication but survived. Gift of the Givers have a machine called the Life Locator. Placed on the ground it can indicate where a person is alive 10m under the rubble. In this instance the trapped miners (at Lily Mine) are 80m below the surface.
“I’m not sure how safe it is to get an operator and the machine closer to the container to check for survivors. But a factor would be if any had an existing medical condition requiring daily medication or not, and if they are able to survive without it. Or if there are no injuries sustained during the accident that could lead to blood loss and the development of an infection.”
He said another factor posing a danger for the three miners' survival was if the mine has hazardous gases that could make breathing difficult. But oxygen supplies through oxygen tanks or through some cracks on the Earth’s surface could help sustain lives.
“In earthquake situations, we are normally talking around 10 metres of rubble or thereabouts which increases the possibility of oxygen slipping through the cracks. In this incident, I think they are trapped 80m below the surface which substantially complicates survival.
“Are they 'free' or in the container? If not, they can still survive two to three months in the absence of any underlying medical condition. In Gaza recently, a Palestinian survived a hunger fast for 90 days,” Sooliman said.
“Do they enough water? This is the critical factor as dehydration could lead to kidney failure.
“The positive aspect is the bond the three have, supporting each other and praying together,” he said.