Illegal miners: Risk of fire or rock fall underground

Illegal miners search for their friends at Durban Deep despite warnings of potential rock fall.

Another group of men now going back underground to search for more bodies. Picture: Govan Whittles.

JOHANNESBURG - Gauteng Emergency Services say there's a large risk that a fire may break out underground or there may be a rock fall as illegal miners search for their friends at a Durban Deep mine shaft in Roodepoort.

At least 22 bodies have been recovered from the shaft since last Sunday and its feared more people may be trapped.

On Friday, 23 men once again descended into the shaft to find their friends.

An illegal miner speaks to a local preacher at the shaft entrance. Picture: Govan Whittles.

Johannesburg Emergency Service Spokesman Robert Mulaudzi says, "There's a possibility that while people are underground a fire can start, due to the carbon monoxide. There's also a possibility of major rock falls. This situation is really dangerous, which is why it was called off from our side."

Twenty-three men have gone underground to search for more bodies. Here are some of them preparing. Picture: Govan Whittles.

This is the latest incident involving trapped illegal miners.

Earlier this week the bodies of five more illegal miners were recovered from an abandoned mine shaft, bringing the death toll to 11.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) found the bodies of the five men on the surface near an entrance to the defunct Durban Deep shaft after finding five other bodies on Tuesday.

An 18-year-old illegal miner was found dead in the same area last weekend.

Mulaudzi says the miners may have died from inhaling harmful gasses underground.

"The suspicion is it might be carbon monoxide inhalation which was detected over the weekend."

West Rand police will find out today if the group of illegal miners will emerge with more bodies of their colleagues who died this week.

Johannesburg Emergency Services' say there's a high level of carbon monoxide underground and they suspect this is what killed most of the illegal miners.

They've now handed matters over to police, who transport the bodies to the morgue.

At the entrance of the shaft, families of the men who are still underground sing church hymns as they wait for any sign of their loved ones.

Officials have also warned those conducting the searches that they're at risk of being caught in a tunnel collapse.