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Johannesburg - The search for the missing miner trapped at Doornkop Gold Mine on the West Rand was ongoing on Thursday, despite the eight others he was with having all been found dead.
At a media briefing held on Thursday morning, Harmony Gold management held a moment of silence at the shaft to acknowledge the dead miners.
“We will continue to search as if the person is still alive,” said chief executive Graham Briggs, speaking of the efforts to locate the last missing man.
Executive chairman Patrice Motsepe said the death of any worker was unacceptable.
He said the mining industry had made progress, but hadn’t had a good reputation for many years.
Motsepe said it was crucial that the industry was seen to be safe for all its workers.
Mining Minister Susan Shabangu called the incident a “setback” for the industry and was a lesson to all.
Briggs said a full investigation would be done once the last miner was found.
National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) secretary for health and safety Eric Gcilitshana said the miners’ bodies were found shortly after 8pm on Wednesday night.
They were brought to the surface early Thursday morning.
“Rescue teams are still looking for the ninth miner,” Gcilitshana said.
“This is a very sad moment for us in NUM. Our hearts go out to the families of the deceased,” Gcilitshana said.
Harmony Gold spokesman James Duncan on Thursday thanked the rescue teams for their efforts. “We’re just hoping (the missing miner) is somewhere safe,” Duncan said.
On Wednesday night the mine’s spokeswoman Charmane Russell said the drama that started on Tuesday began with a rockfall caused by a 2.4 magnitude tremor, which resulted in damage to the water pipes, electric cables and the compressed-air pipes.
A spark was triggered, which is believed to have caused the fire.
A miner, who asked not to be identified, told of how the fire broke out 1 700m underground, trapping her and over 100 colleagues for about 24 hours.
The woman was at work at the Doornkop gold mine, west of Joburg, on Tuesday afternoon when the tremor caused a rockfall. When she and her colleagues went to investigate, thick dust blurred their vision.
They called their supervisors, who in turn called management, she said.
When they 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 discovered that the reason they couldn’t get hold of their colleagues was that the electrical cables had been damaged by the rockfall.
Her colleagues went to find the others, while she tried to get help. By the time she was rescued, she was 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.
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu called the incident “deeply regrettable”.
“We must ensure that we do all we can to get to the bottom of what caused this incident, in order to prevent similar occurrences in future,” she said on Thursday morning.