New drilling begins after setback at Lily Mine
Drilling a new hole to rescue three mine workers trapped underground in a collapsed mine in Mpumalanga began yesterday afternoon.
The specialist machinery arrived at Vantage Goldfields’ Lily Mine in Louisville outside Barberton on Friday, where Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende have been trapped under rocks, soil and debris 60m underground since a sinkhole opened up on February 5, burying a lamp office they were working in.
The initial rescue mission was abandoned on February 13, when the entrance to the mine was blocked by a second collapse. Since then, walls of the sinkhole have been scaling off – prompting the mine to call in geotechnical experts to determine if it was still safe to go ahead with the recovery operation. The experts advised that it was not safe to continue.
Lily Mine spokesperson Coetzee Zietsman said it would take two to three weeks to finish drilling the new hole, after which the recovery operation would resume.
“The geotechnical experts in consultation with all the stakeholders felt that it would be better to drill a new hole to reach the trapped workers. The drilling started this afternoon [yesterday],” Zietsman said.
The three mine workers will have been trapped underground for more than 30 days when the operation to recover them resumes in three weeks.
The trio’s 76 colleagues avoided being trapped by a whisker when the collapse happened shortly after they had entered the shaft.
There is no hope that the three workers are still alive, and one family is beginning to accept the reality.
Nkambule’s brother, Mangaliso, said: “I compare this to saving a person who is drowning. You rush to rescue that person because if you wait a while longer, you won’t be able to. I’m not satisfied and there is no hope left.”
Some of the family members have been calling for traditional healers to perform a ritual to rescue the mine workers, and mine management indicated that it would have no problem with that.
President Jacob Zuma has appointed three ministers – Mosebenzi Zwane (mineral resources), Bathabile Dlamini (social development) and Susan Shabangu (minister of women in the presidency) – to deal with the disaster.
Members of Parliament have visited the mine and are expected to compile a report shortly. Three committee chairs – Sahlulele Luzuko, Lumka Yengeni and Olefile Sefako – vowed that they would push for the three mine workers to be recovered, irrespective of whether the operation was risky or not.
Vantage Goldfields has decided to pay out R4.4 million in compensation to the surviving mine workers and to the families of the three trapped people. The survivors will get R50 000 each, while the families of the trapped workers were promised R200 000 each.
Families of the three mine workers are still praying in a tent that has been pitched on the mine.