CARLETONVILLE, South Africa — Some 3,000 gold miners were trapped a mile underground Wednesday when falling pipe damaged the elevator, but the company began rescuing workers through a smaller shaft and estimated it would take 10 hours to get them all out.
There were no injuries and there was no immediate danger to any of the workers in Harmony Gold Mining Co.'s Elandsrand Mine, company and union officials said.
Peter Bailey, health and safety chairman for the National Mineworkers Union, said the first 74 men reached the surface shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday. "They are all doing well," he said.
The miners were trapped at a level slightly more than a mile underground when a column of water pipes fell down an elevator shaft causing extensive damage to the steel framework and electrical cables. Miners had to be evacuated with a smaller cage in another shaft.
Boqwana said the smaller cage being used to bring miners out can hold about 75 miners at a time. He said it normally takes three minutes to reach the surface but would be slower because rescuers were being careful. He said the evacuation would take about 10 hours.
Bailey, the union health chairman, said the miners were "very afraid," hungry and thirsty after being underground for hours.
"Some of these mineworkers started duty on Tuesday evening. It is now Wednesday night and they are still underground," he said.
A spokesman for the union, Lesiba Seshoka, said charged that the mine was not properly maintained.
"Our guys there tell us that they have raised concerns about the whole issue of maintenance of shafts with the mine (managers) but they have not been attended to," he said.
Briggs rejected union criticism about safety conditions, and said the shaft was in very good condition with a lot of new infrastructure.
Last year, 199 mineworkers died in accidents, mostly rock falls, the government Mine Health and Safety Council reported in September.