Rescue mission for illegal miners 'paused' due to dangerous conditions
There is no sign of the missing illegal miners trapped underground for more than three weeks in the Gloria mine near Middelburg in Mpumalanga.
The Gupta-owned mine was rocked by an underground gas explosion on February 6, allegedly after a group of people entered it illegally to strip copper cables.
"We have paused the rescue operation. We have searched the mine thoroughly and have gone to the areas that the community told us everyone was in, and there was nobody," Mike Elliot, a business rescue representative for the mine, told TimesLIVE on Wednesday evening.
Elliot said the only area they did not enter had dangerous conditions. "There are small rockfalls all the time - it is continuing falling. It is where the explosion was. When it has calmed down, we will go and search the area for people," he said.
The death toll at the mine currently stands at 18. Police estimate that about 22 people were underground.
"We are not sure if they are even still at the mine. They might have come out. Nobody knows. They might be too scared to tell us that they are around," said Elliot.
Some of those trapped underground were allegedly involved in stripping the non-operational mine of copper cables when the explosion occurred. Others went down the shaft after the blast in a bid to rescue those who had been trapped.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said 16 of the deceased had been identified by their next of kin as citizens of Lesotho. One of them was South African.
One body remains unclaimed and unidentified.