New operation to recover buried container to commence soon

A new operation to reach and recover the lamp-room container, swallowed by a sinkhole at Lilly Mine, should commence this week.

The minister for the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), Mr Mosebenzi Zwane, and CEO of Vantage Goldfields,
Mr Mike McChesney, received the preliminary geotechnical assessment of possibilities for the retrieval of the container last week.

A press statement issued by the DMR read as follows:
“The priority remains that of getting the container to the surface as safely as possible. Government continues to treat this matter with the urgency it deserves, and will continue to keep the South African public informed.”

On Friday, Barberton Times interviewed McChesney in the offices of Vantage Goldfields. He spoke in detail about the rescue-recovery operation and the future of Lily Mine and its employees.
He said at the time of the tragedy they had a window-period of eight days to rescue Ms Pretty Nkambule, Ms Yvonne Mnisi and Mr Solomon Nyerende. During this time the mine worked with the best experts in the world for the specific emergency situation.

On the eighth day they suffered a major setback when another collapse occurred, and they had to temporarily withdraw the rescue teams. It was then decided that a second outlet would be drilled. Once this work was completed, the mine was faced with another disappointment when the geotechnical report found that the ventilation shaft had been severely damaged. It was decided last week that they could not afford to have anybody underground.
This, said McChesney, was not surprising as, when a sinkhole occurs, it is very unstable for weeks and months afterwards.

It has been decided to implement a new plan. This includes the development of a new decline, which is not a shaft, but can be called a tunnel in laymen’s terms. This decline will be based some 500 metres away from the sinkhole and the disturbed area. “It is an entirely safe environment and that is very important to us, given what we have just been through in the past five weeks. This decline will go in at an angle. It will intersect between four and five level under current workings in a very safe part of the mine,”

“We will then be able to recommence the rescue-recovery operations from that safe environment at the point that we want to locate the container,” said McChesney.

The mine is now arranging for contractors and equipment, and McChesney said he anticipated that the work, which would be done mostly by the mine’s own employees, should begin this week.

“I want to caution you that we have been optimistic before and it was not false optimism. We really had a chance and we still do have a very good chance of recovering the container and the occupants.”

“I just need to stress that this sinkhole is absolutely huge. It is very complicated in terms of why it happened. So many people have asked me over the past few weeks why it happened. I cannot tell you, nor can all the individual specialist geotechnical engineers,”

“They are just as perplexed as we are. It happened very suddenly and without warning,” he said.

More positive news for employees, who have been concerned about the security of their jobs, is that, after the objective of recovering the container has been achieved, Lily Mine will have the option to reopen with immediate effect, provided that the DMR gives the go-ahead.

“The DMR has been incredibly supportive and, in doing so, we can reopen the mine and will be able to get back to full production with all our employees as we have always wanted to do.”

On Friday, McChesney and Zwane paid a visit to the families of the missing workers. According to McChesney, the mood was sombre and sad, but they were supportive of the new plan.

“They like the fact that we do have a plan and the fact that we are committed to recovering the container,” said McChesney. He said he suspected that some of the family members, who have been staying on the mine’s premises since this tragedy occurred, might be going home, but he gave the assurance that whatever their decision, the mine would continue to support them.”

Watch the video of an exclusive meeting with Mr Mike McChesney in the offices of Vantage Goldfields HERE.


Anchen Coetzee

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