A short walk to inspect a suspected broken water pipe saved the father of two from being swallowed by the 1.8 magnitude seismic underground tragedy that left three mineworkers dead.
“When I was drilling in the ceiling (of the tunnel), I noticed there was no water supply to the area where I was drilling. We suspected that the pipe had broken, so we stopped and I then walked along the passage towards the exit.
“I heard three loud noises behind me some 300m away, where I had left my colleagues. I looked back, but all I could see was smoke. I ran as fast as I could to the exit,” said the man.
As he was making his way out, he saw another miner running behind him, without his boots. They had got stuck between the rocks.
When the pair got to a safe area they were joined by another team and a group of rescue workers, and together they headed back to the scene of the accident, he said.
“The passage was blocked by huge rocks and we could hear one of the trapped workers screaming for help and water. We tried to use shovels to remove the rocks. There was also a disagreement between the mineworkers and the rescue team on the method used to remove the rocks.
“They have their own way of doings things. And 15 minutes later, the cries from the distressed miner went silent. We assumed he was dead,” said the miner.
Speaking to The Star on Monday, he was still surprised that he had made it alive out of the belly of Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu Mine in Carletonville, Gauteng.
Rescue efforts to retrieve two of his colleagues who were still trapped underground continued Monday, but the company cast doubt on whether they would be found alive, because of the long period they had spent underground without enough oxygen, food and water.
The 10m rockfall occurred on Friday, with mining operations suspended. The company has also barred the families of the victims and survivors from speaking to the media, citing sensitivity of the incident and rescue operations.
Two miners from the seven-member team, who were working near to where the accident happened, escaped with minor injuries.
The mineworker, who did not want to be named, said he was still traumatised, even after receiving counselling. He said he doubted whether he would ever go back to being a rock driller or return to work in the mining industry.
“I will not go back there even if they clear the area after the accident or offer me more money to work elsewhere. I’m not sure I want to risk my life again,” he added.
He said his shift began as usual at 7am on Friday and they did the routine 30-minute safety inspections before taking the lift down the shaft.
He came to the surface around 8pm and could not even have supper or tell his wife what had transpired, he said.
“I just told her that an incident had occurred, but I could not tell her that some of my colleagues and friends had died in that accident. I still don’t know how my life was spared. Some people still think I’m one of those who died,” he added.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) said they were happy with the company’s efforts to retrieve the remaining workers.
But Amcu Gauteng region chairperson Lennox Tshisa said he was concerned that a second rockfall that occurred Monday morning might thwart rescue operations.
“It occurred in the passage leading to where the accident happened. We still hope that we will find those workers alive,” said Tshisa.
Harmony’s investor relations manager, Lauren Fourie, said six rescue teams were working around the clock. She conceded that the area of their operations was highly seismic, but added that they had put safety measures in place to protect their 4500 employees.