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Rescue operations at #LilyMine could take longer

The mine’s owners say operations will continue when a second escape route is drilled.

FILE: The dirt road leading to the area where the collapse happened at the Lily mine near Barberton, Mpumalanga. Picture: Govan Whittles/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Owners of the Lily Mine in Barberton, where three workers remain trapped nearly two weeks on, say the rescue mission cannot continue until a second escape route is drilled which could take up to two weeks.

This update came last night as Yvonne Mnisi, Solomon Nyerende and Pretty Nkambule spent their thirteenth night trapped in a container underground.

Yesterday, Lily Mine management met with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the mineral resources minister, where they accepted experts' opinion that no one could enter the mine again until it was safe to do so, and had an escape route.

Mine spokesperson Coetzee Zietsman says a rescue unit drill has been secured and will hopefully begin drilling by tomorrow.

"It's a similar drill to the one that was used in Chile's mine disaster. The drill will open up a hole that is roughly 800 centimetres wide. In other words, just big enough for someone to crawl up and down."

Zietzman says families of the affected miners have been informed of the latest developments.

"The families will stay on the mine property and they will be following the process with the support of the ministry and the mine.

"I think the implications are clear. The minister was with the families and this was explained to them. So the families are aware that there is little hope to find anybody."

WATCH: Inside the Lily Mine

Meanwhile, 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."

An in-depth view of the Lily Mine collapse