Rescue efforts remain suspended at Lily Mine

It’s been 11 days since 3 workers were trapped in lamp room underground following a collapse.

Sink hole at the Lily Mine in Barberton. Picture: Vantage Goldfield

JOHANNESBURG - While the CEO of Vantage Goldfields says the situation at the Lily Mine is too risky to complete a safety assessment - the Mineral Resources Department says it wants to have a meeting with mining CEOs about health and safety following the collapse.

The rescue mission to find three trapped workers in a metal container about 80 metres underground was suspended on Saturday after another collapse and the continuous caving in of the ground.

Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende were trapped when a pillar collapsed 11 days ago, resulting in 20,000 tonnes of soil falling into a pit at the entrance of the mine.

The pillar weighs several tonnes and when it failed and broke into several pieces, it placed structural stability of the top four levels at risk of collapsing further.

Speaking at the mine yesterday, Vantage Goldfields CEO Michael McChesney said the latest rock falls have derailed their mission.

"Because we cannot get underground to assess the safety involved in getting underground, we aren't able to make a comment on when and how we're going to go forward."

He says they will reassess whether it is safe to go underground in 24 hours.

Meanwhile, there have been calls for an independent inquiry to be conducted into the cause of the collapse.

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane says health and safety at South Africa's mines is now back in focus.

"We'll have a meeting with all the CEOs of the industry and ensure that we map a way forward when it comes to issues of health and safety."

While there has been no communication from inside the container for exactly a week now, officials say they have not given up hope of finding the workers alive.

WATCH: Inside the Lily Mine

GEOLOGISTS ON SITE

While international geologists remain on site to assess the stability of the ground, there have been warnings that the container in which the three workers remain trapped is likely to keep descending further underground.

Wits University Mining Geology Professor Kim Ncube-Hein says the operation is extremely risky.

"It cannot be done from the top. The exact position means the entire area is becoming unstable as the whole lot is going effectively down the plug hole which is quite a considerable distance that probably would be subsiding further with every failure."