Rescue hampered by poor ventilation, unsafe conditions at Gupta mine
Rescue officials experienced difficulty retrieving people still trapped underground following a blast at a nonoperational Gupta-owned mine near Middelburg on Thursday.
Police spokesperson Brig Leonard Hlathi said mine officials had said rescue efforts were being hampered by the fact that the mine shaft is not safe and there is insufficient ventilation. "Efforts will resume after the electricity supply to the shaft has been fixed, following excessive cable theft which the mine is experiencing."
It was reported earlier that people were trapped underground after a gas explosion on Wednesday while stripping cables at the mine, which has been closed for several months.
Police placed the death toll at five on Thursday.
One body was brought to the surface along with a badly injured man who was taken to hospital in a serious condition on Wednesday. The other four bodies were retrieved on Thursday, said Hlathi.
"According to information from the community, there might be more people trapped inside - whether still alive is unknown at this stage," he said.
An inquest docket has been opened.
"The sequence of events suggest that an unknown number of people trespassed into the mine between Sunday and Wednesday ... As a result of that police were summoned to the scene where the necessary co-ordination was done," said Hlathi.
As rescue operations were still under way, the area was declared a crime scene and closed off to the public.
The Gloria mine forms part of the Optimum Coal assets bought by the Gupta family in 2016. They were put into business rescue in February 2018. Business rescue is a provision of the Companies Act that allows for the rehabilitation of distressed companies.