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11 killed as South Africa platinum mine lift plunges

11 killed as South Africa platinum mine lift plunges
November 28, 2023 Web Desk

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AFP) - An elevator carrying workers to the surface at a giant South African platinum mine plunged out of control killing 11 and injuring 75, the mine operators said Tuesday.

Impala Platinum said the "devastating accident" happened on Monday at its Rustenburg mine, northwest of Johannesburg, as more than 80 employees were leaving a shaft at the end of their shift. The alert was raised shortly before 5:00pm (1500 GMT) as the lift "unexpectedly started descending", according to the company.

"Its rapid descent was stopped by the conveyance counterweight becoming trapped by the jack catches," it said in a statement. Jack catches are safety systems intended to stop lifts and underground trains from rolling back in case of an accident.

"Our hearts are heavy for the lives lost and the individuals affected by this devastating accident," Impala Platinum's (Implats) CEO, Nico Muller, said in a statement. "We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our colleagues and are in the process of ensuring all next of kin have been contacted".

The company said 75 workers were injured and were transferred to local hospitals and admitted for treatment. Implats spokesman Johan Theron told AFP some were severely injured, most suffered from ankle and leg fractures, and others walked out with minor scratches. Rescue operations had been completed and all the 86 employees involved were accounted for, it added.

'Incredibly difficult time' 

Implats said all operations at the mine were suspended on Tuesday, as an investigation into the accident went ahead. "Implats is offering ongoing support to the families and colleagues of those lost in service," said Miller. "We also hold our injured colleagues in our thoughts at this incredibly difficult time."

South Africa is the world's leading producer of platinum. Mine accidents are common in South Africa, where hundreds of thousands work in the industry. South Africa has the world's deepest mines and is a major exporter of gold, diamonds, coal and other raw materials.

Many of the deep mines have lifts that can carry more than 100 people at a time. Dozens of mineworkers are killed each year, though numbers have been falling as safety standards have been stepped up over the past two decades.

There were about 50 mining deaths in 2022, according to government statistics. Several mine workers were killed at the same Rustenburg Implats mine in 2021, after a mudslide hit one of the shafts. More than 430 coal miners were killed in the Coalbrook disaster in 1960.