New team flown in to retrieve bodies

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kleinzee mining rescue INLSA The loose soil, and the manner in which the bodies are trapped underground, means it takes rescue team up to several hours to retrieve just a single body. Photo: Neil Baynes

In what has become a recovery mission to retrieve the bodies of nine miners still believed to be trapped in the Bontekoe mine, a new expert mine rescue team has been flown in from Welkom.

Sakhile Ngcobo, spokesman for De Beers, said there were only a handful of expert mine rescuers in the country.

“We flew in the first team from Welkom on Tuesday. That team had pretty much worked round the clock all week,” said Ngcobo.

“This operation can easily take another two weeks, so it is important that we rotate the team of rescuers.”

Four ex-De Beers foremen with special training in mine rescue also arrived on the scene at the weekend.

“We have not recovered any further bodies (on Sunday),” said Captain Charelle Ehlers, the police spokeswoman in Springbok. “They are now digging at a depth of 14m, so things are getting very dangerous.”

On Tuesday last week, an estimated 18 miners were trapped when a mine shaft collapsed at Bontekoe mine in the Kleinzee area.

Ngcobo said that there was no longer any hope that any of the illegal miners still trapped in the shafts were still alive. By late Saturday afternoon, 10 bodies had been recovered from one of three tunnels that had been cut off from the outside.

Rescue workers on Sunday had noticed a small opening that could be an access point to one of the other two tunnels, where the remaining miners are believed to have been trapped. Shovels were used to start clearing that opening, because it could not be accessed by machinery.

“Excavations and attempts at recovering the rest of the diggers will again continue through the night,” said Ngcobo.

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Cape Argus