Trapped miners refuse to leave

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IOL BR Mine 6322 Independent Newspapers Rescue workers help one of 11 suspected illegal miners to the surface at a disused Gold One mine shaft in Benoni on Sunday. It is believed that they had been trapped since Saturday night, and at least 10 more men had refused to leave the shaft. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Johannesburg - Rescue operations at an old South African gold mine were stopped after police arrested 11 miners who had been hoisted out and the rest refused to come up the shaft, the Emergency Rescue 24 service said.

It’s too dangerous for rescuers to go in after them, Werner Vermaak, a spokesman for the emergency service, said by phone today.

The “illegal miners” had opened up old sealed shafts to dig for gold, he said.

Rescue teams struggled for eight hours to remove boulders blocking the entrance of the mine in Benoni, east of Johannesburg.

The 11 freed miners received medical treatment and were taken into police custody, Vermaak said.

A 12th man who was halfway up the shaft went back down to avoid arrest.

“It’s very difficult to say how many are still trapped,” Vermaak said.

“Those who were arrested didn’t say how many. They are afraid of incriminating themselves.”

When contact was first made with the trapped men, indications were that 230 of them were trapped in the 150-meter (492-foot) mine shaft.

They were able to communicate and were given water, according to the emergency service.

They were discovered today by police patrolling the area who heard screaming from the abandoned mine, Vermaak said.

Illegal mining is common in South Africa, the world’s sixth-largest producer of gold.

The country, Africa’s biggest economy, will have to spend about $2.7 billion (R29 billion) to clean up its almost 6,000 abandoned mines, the WWF, formerly known as the World Wide Fund for Nature, said in a 2012 report. - Bloomberg News

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