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South Africa Rescue Halted After Trapped Miners Refuse to Leave

By Kamlesh Bhuckory
February 16, 2014 4:13 PM EST 2 Comments
Rescuers tend to one of the 11 workers that were rescued from an illegal gold mine in Benoni, outside Johannesburg, on February 16, 2014.
Photographer: Alexander Joe/AFP via Getty Images
Rescuers tend to one of the 11 workers that were rescued from an illegal gold mine in Benoni, outside Johannesburg, on February 16, 2014.

Rescue operations at an old South African gold mine were stopped after police arrested 11 miners who had been hoisted out and the rest refused to come up the shaft, the Emergency Rescue 24 service said.

It’s too dangerous for rescuers to go in after them, Werner Vermaak, a spokesman for the emergency service, said by phone today. The “illegal miners” had opened up old sealed shafts to dig for gold, he said.

Rescue teams struggled for eight hours to remove boulders blocking the entrance of the mine in Benoni, east of Johannesburg. The 11 freed miners received medical treatment and were taken into police custody, Vermaak said. A 12th man who was halfway up the shaft went back down to avoid arrest.

“It’s very difficult to say how many are still trapped,” Vermaak said. “Those who were arrested didn’t say how many. They are afraid of incriminating themselves.”

When contact was first made with the trapped men, indications were that 230 of them were trapped in the 150-meter (492-foot) mine shaft. They were able to communicate and were given water, according to the emergency service.

They were discovered today by police patrolling the area who heard screaming from the abandoned mine, Vermaak said.

Illegal mining is common in South Africa, the world’s sixth-largest producer of gold. The country, Africa’s biggest economy, will have to spend about $2.7 billion to clean up its almost 6,000 abandoned mines, the WWF, formerly known as the World Wide Fund for Nature, said in a 2012 report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kamlesh Bhuckory in Johannesburg at kbhuckory@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Thiel at sthiel1@bloomberg.net

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