Barberton - The families of three miners, trapped underground at the Lily mine in Mpumalanga for almost two weeks, have been fully briefed about a possible two-week delay in the rescue mission, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said on Wednesday.
“We have talked to the families. We are from the families. We gave them the truth because as leaders, we need to lead during this time and also look at the issue of safety of those people going underground to get the container out,” Zwane said as he addressed reporters at around 10pm at the mine in Barberton.
“We have indicated to them that it is not our wish that this (rescue) operation is going to stop for the next two to three weeks, but we have to abide by the law so that everybody that goes down is safe.”
The rescue operation was delayed as health and safety regulations do not allow for rescuers to go underground without a second escape outlet.
Zwane said the families have been promised that work to drill a second escape route for rescuers will be monitored and alternatives to speed up the process would be considered.
“We will be getting a report on Monday, [saying] if there is no other alternative that can be started faster than the alternative starting tomorrow [Thursday]. We all understand the importance of safety because it is is a priority to us,” he said.
Zwane emphasised that the primary objective was “to get that container out” with the rescuers also being safe.
Vantage Goldfields CEO Mike McChesney said the process of establishing an escape route, which will now precede any rescue mission, will be complex.
“I think I need to emphasise that the rock engineers have emphasised the magnitude and the complexity of this operation. The timing that they are estimating to make the working safe again is about two weeks,” McChesney told reporters at the mine.
He said geological experts have advised Lily Mine to continue with rescue operations for its three trapped workers only after drilling the escape outlet.
“The rock engineers have now produced a geotechnical report and it has been shared with all stakeholders today. I’m pleased to report that the recommendation suggests that operations to recover the container are positive in that the operation can now continue as long as there is a second outlet,” he said.
“To this end, we have today [Wednesday] secured a rescue drill unit from Mine Rescue. This is the same type of unit that was used in the Chilean rescue, some years ago. It is a state-of-the-art drill machine which is going to be used to drill a 600mm hole – just the right size to get a person from underground in an emergency.
McChesney said the machine is going to drill a distance of 80m.
“The site that the the rig is going to operated from is being prepared right now. I’ve just shown the minister (Zwane) the site preparation. It is in a nice safe location and the rig has been ordered. It will be transported down during the course of tomorrow (Thursday) and it should be drilling on Friday,” said McChesney.
Lily Mine, owned by Vantage Goldfields, is currently closed and rescue missions are on hold following two collapses at the sinkhole where the three miners remained trapped for almost two weeks.
Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Mabuza and Solomon Nyarenda became trapped underground on February 5 when the container they were working in fell into a sinkhole created by a collapsed crown pillar, before being covered by huge rocks.
Seventy-six other workers were rescued following the collapse.
The families of the three miners have been camping inside the mine premises since they received word of the collapse.