Trapped miners arrested as they're lifted to surface
Published 17/02/2014 | 02:30
A dozen of the estimated 200 miners trapped in an illegal gold mine near Johannesburg have been brought to the surface and given water, before being handed over to police for questioning.
By 7pm local time, 11 had been brought out of the mine shaft after a large boulder blocking their escape had been removed.
A spokesman for rescue service ER24 said miners were transferred straight from an ambulance to a police van.
"Miner reluctant to come to the surface for fear of being arrested," the spokesman tweeted as one of the men was brought out.
"Illegal mining is a crime, and once all miners receive medical attention, they are arrested."
The miners may have been trapped deliberately by a rival group as they worked to try and find pieces of precious metal left behind after industrial operations in the shaft ended several years ago, a spokesman for ER24 said.
Rescue operations ceased as darkness fell but private mine security guards were stationed around the shaft and police were also on hand to arrest any other miners who came out.
A police patrol in the semi-rural Johannesburg suburb of Benoni, where gold has been mined for decades, had been alerted by shouts from the trapped miners.
Police said some of the trapped group had told rescuers that 200 more illegal diggers were deeper in the mine, and the exact number who remained was not known.
They were discovered after emergency services staff heard screaming while conducting a routine drill in the area.
Around 30 miners were close to the surface, where a large boulder was blocking the entrance. They told rescue workers that there were 200 people trapped in total and the rest were down a steep tunnel.
Werner Vermaak, a spokesman for ER24, said rescue workers had to wait several hours for specialist equipment including a crane to move the boulder without destabilising the ground around it, but they had now begun work.
Water has also been passed through gaps to the miners – the temperature in the area was 80F (27C) by 3pm yesterday.
Mr Vermaak said that the way the miners were trapped by the boulder suggested foul play.
"Sometimes it happens that rival groups close the entrance off," he said.
Mining is one of South Africa's biggest industries and disused mines cover the landscape around Johannesburg. Mining firms are expected to secure the areas to prevent illegal access but the security is frequently breached by people eager to search for scraps left behind by the commercial operations.
As a result, such entrapments are almost a weekly occurrence, although rarely on the massive scale of the latest incident near Benoni. (© Daily Telegraph, London)