Johannesburg - Eight of the nine missing miners who were trapped at Doornkop Gold Mine on the West Rand have been found dead.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) secretary for health and safety Eric Gcilitshana said their bodies were discovered shortly after 8pm on Wednesday night.
At midnight, their bodies had not been brought to the surface.
“Rescue teams are still looking for the ninth miner,” he said.
“This is a very sad moment for us in NUM. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased families,” Gcilitshana said, adding that the union would be calling for a full investigation into the accident.
Earlier, a miner told of how she survived a brush with death after a fire broke out 1 700m underground, trapping her and more than 100 colleagues for about 24 hours.
Eventually, eight miners were taken to hospital.
The woman – who has asked not to be identified – was at work at Doornkop gold mine, west of Joburg, on Tuesday afternoon when a 2.4 magnitude tremor caused a rockfall.
When she and her colleagues went to investigate the scene of the rockfall, thick dust blurred their vision. Alarmed, they immediately called their supervisors, who in turn called management, she said.
When they then tried to phone their colleague on the other side of the rockfall, the call didn’t go through.
There was a thick cloud of smoke. And, suddenly, fire.
“My eyes became sore. I couldn’t see the two other colleagues I was with. I took the rescue pads and put them over my mouth to avoid inhaling the smoke,” she said.
As they tried to move back to the area where their colleagues were, the smoke became too much.
She found out that the reason they couldn’t get hold of their fellow workers was because the electrical cables had been damaged by the rockfall.
Eventually, her colleagues went to find the others, while she tried to get help. By the time she was rescued, she was a bit dazed and her voice was faint from inhaling the smoke.
“I’m just happy to see my family and friends. I am blessed to be alive. I’m praying for my colleagues,” she said.
Most of the miners who were underground managed to reach the surface before the fire started.
Eighteen miners were still underground late on Tuesday evening. One was rescued later at about 10pm.
Around 10.30am on Wednesday, rescue workers brought up eight more miners to the surface.
Harmony Gold spokeswoman Charmane Russell said the rockfall was caused by a 2.4 magnitude tremor, which resulted in damage to the water and electric cables as well as the compressed-air pipes.
A spark was triggered, which is believed to have caused the fire.
Russell said the eight miners brought to the surface before 11am on Thursdaywere not injured.
The fire was still smouldering when they were rescued. She said it had been difficult to extinguish it completely.
Gcilitshana said the families of the trapped miners were expected to start arriving at the mine on Wednesday night. He said most of them were from Lesotho and Mozambique, with a few from South Africa.
On Tuesday night, miners Tlhabi Rammotang and Mokete Palime huddled among a group of friends in a house in Slovoville, watching the match between Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United.
But their minds weren’t entirely on this league encounter. They were worried about their nine colleagues and friends still trapped at the mine.
Rammotang, 43, and Palime, 51, were supposed to have started the 6pm shift on Tuesday. They were ready to catch the lift underground when they were stopped due to the accident.
Rammotang said the news had left him terrified. “I was scared. I think I am lucky. It could have been me (trapped underground).”