JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The search has been suspended for the three people who have been trapped underground for more than a month after a gold mine collapsed in South Africa, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
The ground surrounding the Lily gold mine is too unstable to continue rescue operations, said spokesman Coetzee Zietsman. Rescue workers, experts, the mine's management, unions and the trapped workers' families were meeting to discuss the next step at the mine near Barberton in the eastern Mpumalanga province.
"We are not declaring them dead," said Zietsman. "We cannot call this anything but a rescue and recovery mission. We are certainly not changing their status until our rescue teams tell us anything."
Rescue teams are trying to reach mineworkers trapped inside a container that was buried beneath thousands of tons of debris after a mine collapse on Feb. 5. Two women and one man — Pretty Mabuza, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyarenda — were working inside a mobile office container, distributing headlamps and safety gear to miners, when an underground pillar caved in, creating a sinkhole that swallowed the container.
Workers have seen no signs of life since early last month when a second collapse halted the rescue operations, Zietsman said.
The families of the three trapped mineworkers have camped by the mine since the collapse, living in tents erected by the mining company, the Australia-based Vantage Goldfields, said Zietsman.