Pretoria - Efforts to rescue three trapped Lily Mine workers suffered another setback when the drilling machine broke down soon after it had started drilling an escape route for rescuers, a spokesman said on Sunday.
“When they had started drilling yesterday (Saturday) then the drill bit broke at the bearings that is running that whole thing. They have spent the whole day today (Sunday) trying to fix it but they haven’t managed to fix it by tonight,” Lily Mine spokesman Coetzee Zietsman said in a telephone interview.
“They are still working on fixing it. As soon as the machine is fixed then drilling starts again.”
Zietsman said journalists would be taken on a tour of the site on Monday afternoon.
Sunday marked the 16th day since mineworkers Yvonne Mnisi, Pretty Mabuza and Solomon Nyarenda were trapped underground at the mine in Barberton, Mpumalanga.
On Wednesday, Vantage Goldfields CEO Mike McChesney said it could take about two weeks before the operation to rescue the trio resumed. Vantage owns Lily Mine.
“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 on Wednesday night.
He said geological experts had advised Lily Mine to continue with the rescue mission for its three trapped workers only after drilling an escape outlet for rescuers.
“The rock engineers have now produced a geotechnical report and it has been shared with all stakeholders. 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 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.”
He said the machine was going to drill a distance of 80m.
Lily Mine is currently closed and rescue missions are on hold following two collapses at the sinkhole where the three workers remain trapped after more than two weeks.
Mnisi, Mabuza and Nyarenda were 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.