Illegal miners urged to help retrieve bodies at Gupta-owned Gloria mine

28 February 2019 - 10:47 By Naledi Shange
Police call on illegal miners to assist in finding those still trapped in Gupta-owned Gloria mine.
Police call on illegal miners to assist in finding those still trapped in Gupta-owned Gloria mine.
Image: Kevin Sutherland.

Mpumalanga police on Thursday called on illegal miners to help them with efforts to recover any remaining bodies trapped underground at the Gupta-owned Gloria mine in Blinkpan.

"The collective ... has extended a call to those who were in the mine before the tragedy to come forward and shed some light as where these bodies might be," Brig Leonard Hlathi said in a statement.

The call for help came after body retrieval efforts were halted on Wednesday as the mission became increasingly dangerous.

"It is to be remembered that last week, Friday the 22nd, after the recovery of the 13 bodies, the mine search-and-rescue teams had to halt their search due to some challenges that prevailed and resumed again on Monday the 25th.

"[On Wednesday, the 27th] again it was decided that the search mission be temporarily suspended due to the volatility of the areas being searched. Apparently there are big rocks falling and the area is also flooded with water," said Hlathi.

Mike Elliot, the business rescue representative for the mine, said on Thursday that it was difficult to locate the last of the bodies.

"We have searched the mine thoroughly and have gone to the areas that the community told us everyone was in, and there was nobody," he said.

He said the only area they did not enter and search were those with dangerous conditions.  

"There are small rockfalls all the time - it is continuing to fall where the explosion was. When it has calmed down, we will go and search the area for people," he said.

Elliot said it was not clear whether the last of those believed to be underground were in fact still there.

"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," he said.

Some of those trapped underground were allegedly involved in stripping the non-operational mine of copper cables when a gas explosion occurred on February 6. 

Others allegedly went down the shaft after the blast in a bid to rescue those who were initially trapped.

Police had estimated that 22 people were underground. Eighteen bodies have since been retrieved. 

The mine, which has been non-operational for several months, forms part of the Optimum Coal assets bought by the Gupta family in 2016.

They were put into business rescue early in 2018.