A bizarre standoff between South African miners who had been trapped down an illegal gold shaft and would-be rescuers entered its second day as some workers refused to leave amid fear of arrest, emergency officials said Monday.
They were discovered after police heard shouting beneath a mine entrance that had been blocked by a large boulder on Sunday, according to local media reports.
Rescue officials managed to shift the huge stone and 21 later came to the surface where they were arrested for illegal mining.
It is unclear how many people remained down the shaft near Benoni Central Business District, about 30 miles east of Johannesburg. Early media reports put the figure at 200 but emergency officials later scaled it back to about 30.
“They have sent down one of the miners to try and negotiate with the others to try and get them to come up,” said Werner Vermaak, a communications manager for ER24 a private, national, emergency medical care service that has staff on standby at the mine.
Eight workers emerged from the mine at around 9:30 a.m. local time (2:30 a.m. ET) on Monday but they were tight-lipped about those remaining, apparently concerned about trouble with the police, he added.
Another five followed later in the day but although 24 in total have surfaced, it is unclear how many are still refusing to come out.
“They were doing well with no obvious injuries,” Vermaak said of the miners who emerged. “After we checked them out they were taken into police custody.”
Illegal mining is common in South Africa, a major producer of gold and platinum. Miners often live underground in dangerous conditions in order to unearth precious ore.
However, penalties can include fines and even prison time.