Published February 17, 2014
Eleven more gold miners have been pulled from an illegal South African shaft Monday after becoming stuck over the weekend, but others are believed to remain below, refusing to emerge and face arrest.
Rescuers have been able to pull 22 miners total out of the shaft in Benoni, near Johannesburg. But authorities suspect at least 15 more are still holding out, more than 48 hours after police first heard cries for help from a mine entrance that had been blocked by a large boulder.
Authorities suspect the miners were robbed by a rival group that blocked the mine exit, reported Eyewitness News, a South African media outlet.
Earlier, reports said more than 200 miners had been trapped. But the ones who emerged were tightlipped about the colleagues they left behind, apparently concerned about trouble with the law.
Those who have been rescued have been placed in cells by Benoni police and are awaiting prosecution, according to a Fox News producer in South Africa. They may face charges of illegal mining, which carries prison terms and fines.
It is unknown whether those still below the surface are injured. Rescue crews say they are not going in to save the miners but have made it possible for them to escape the shaft on their own free will.
"We had men who came halfway up the shaft but then turned around. Our rescue members cannot go down the shaft because it is too dangerous," the South African news agency quoted rescue worker David Tshabalala as saying.
Illegal mining is common in South Africa, a major producer of gold and platinum. Workers brave unsafe conditions below ground amid reports of the involvement of organized crime and even clashes between rival groups seeking to extract precious metal from the shafts.
On Sunday, emergency workers cleared the mine shaft entrance of debris and sent food and water down to the miners.
After nightfall, some mine security officials remained at the site, but rescue workers had packed up and left, leaving behind a ladder in the shaft for those still below.
"Should they have a change of heart and mind, they then have at least some access to get out of the shaft," emergency responder Kobus Du Plooy said.
Some of the 11 who came out Sunday were dehydrated but otherwise in good health. They were believed to have been trapped since Saturday morning and police patrolling in the area heard their screams for help, the South African Press Association reported. Rescue vehicles and equipment were brought to the site to stabilize the ground before the removal of the rubble began.
Illegal mining remains a serious concern, despite progress in curbing it, South Africa's mineral resources department said in a statement. It attributed the improvement to "illegal mining forums," in which stakeholders in the mining industry seal open shafts and seek to detain illegal miners, according to the South African Press Association.
Peter Major, a mining analyst from Cadiz mining told a Fox News producer in South Africa that there are over 6,000 abandoned or derelict mines in the country.
Some analysts say the problem could increase if legal mines close or downsize, forcing skilled workers who have lost their jobs to turn to illegal activities. South Africa's mining industry, a pillar of the economy, is struggling with rising costs. Tens of thousands of workers in the platinum sector are currently on strike.
Fox News’ Paul Tilsley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.