Locomotive crushes 105 gold miners

Rescue teams toiled more than a mile underground yesterday to recover the bodies of 105 miners crushed to death by a runaway locomotive in South Africa's worst mining disaster for almost a decade.

Mangled remains wrapped in grey blankets were slowly being passed to the surface at the Vaal Reefs gold mine in Orkney, 95 miles south of Johannesburg. Some bundles took up barely a quarter of a stretcher.

The miners, all believed to be black, were killed when a 12-ton locomotive broke through safety barriers and fell into a lift shaft, landing on the cage in which the men were being winched to the surface. The train and cage plunged 1,500 feet to the bottom of the number 2 shaft, 6,900 feet underground. The impact reduced the 10ft tall cage to half its size. One official described it as a "tin box".

Spokesmen for Anglo-American, the owner of the Vaal Reefs mine, were at a loss to explain how the locomotive, used to ferry men, equipment and ore along underground galleries, burst through at least four levels of safety. The mystery was deepened by the fact that the driver managed to jump off before the crash. Without a driver, the train should have come to a stop. As the government announced an inquiry and a union leader demanded new safety standards, President Nelson Mandela said the accident was "deeply shocking to the whole nation".

The Mineral and Energy Affairs Minister, Pik Botha, visited the underground site of the accident and, upon emerging back on the surface said: "It is the most gruesome sight I have ever seen." His face and overalls dirty and his voice cracking with emotion, he added: "It is something I will never forget."

Mr Botha said rescue workers trying to cut bodies out of the crushed lift cage were working under extremely difficult conditions. "At the moment they are cutting through the cage with blowtorches and they must take out a hand here, a foot there and bits of body and wrap it all up and bring it up to the surface."

He added: "It was immensely sad to see human flesh mingled with steel two kilometres underground. And that is their grave. I wonder what must have gone through their minds."

The last mining tragedy of similar magnitude occurred in 1986 when 177 workers lost their lives in a fire at the Kinross gold mine. An investigation showed that fire was the result of the mining company using practices that had been banned in other countries.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) yesterday demanded action. "There has [sic] been too many mining disasters too often in the history of our country. Since 1909 alone, 13 mining disasters have been recorded. This emphasises the need for an urgent and ongoing Commission of Inquiry into safety regimes on the mines, and for new and stringent regulation to bring the sorry train of death and injury to an end," the ANC said.

More than 69,000 miners have been killed and more than a million injured in South African mines from 1909 to 1994. According to the Ministry of Mineral and Energy Affairs, the number of deaths has been declining since 1993.

Black workers have been the core of the mine labour force. Under apartheid, the safety of the seemingly endless supply of cheap labour was considered secondary to profits.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?