The bodies of two illegal miners have been brought to the surface of a collapsed mine near Kleinzee in the Northern Cape, police said today
Police spokeswoman Captain Cherelle Ehlers said 16 men remained trapped underground. Rescuers did not know if they were dead or alive.
"A national rescue team is on the way from Bloemfontein to help with the rescue."
One miner was freed from the rubble alive late last night and was recovering in Springbok Hospital.
"His injuries were minor, but he was suffering from severe shock."
Rescue efforts were being hampered by loose gravel and, as fast as rescuers dug, so the hole caved in, Ehlers said.
The disused tunnels where the illegal miners were digging for diamonds were part of the Bontekou mine and were closed in April. Thirty men were in the tunnels when they collapsed at 3am yesterday, but 11 escaped and raised the alarm.
Kleinzee residents gathered at the mine on today waiting for news of family and friends trapped underground.
In March this year a group of illegal gold miners died in a rockfall at the Grootvlei mine on Gauteng's East Rand. The mine was closed and authorities said at the time it was too unstable to go underground to attempt a rescue or retrieve the men's bodies.