How miners trapped underground for three days were finally freed

Four miners were on Tuesday morning rescued after spending three days trapped underground following an accident that led to blockage of a mining shaft at a casserite mine in Mwulire Sector, Rwamagana District.
The concession belongs to Piran mining company, located in Ntunga Cell of Mwulire Sector.
The accident occurred last Saturday around 10:30am about the time residents had concluded the monthly community service (Umuganda), according to the Rwamagana District mayor, Rajab Mbonyumuvunyi.
All the four were rescued alive on Tuesday morning and rushed to Rwamagana District  Hospital for emergency care.
The miners were identified as Jean d’Amour Banguyeneza, Laurent Gatambara, Gilbert Gasigwa, and Jean-Marie Vianney Munyampenda.
Mbonyumuvunyi said that what happened was not abnormal in the mining sector but took time be extra cuatious especially during the rainy season which tends to weaken the soils, leading to such accidents.
The accident occurred when one of the miners tried to move a rock that was blocking the mine shaft, which led to the giving way of land mass around it, completely blocking off the shaft.
The Eastern Region Police Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Dismas Rutaganira, and Mayor Mbonyumuvunyi oversaw the successful rescue operation.
Close to 150 residents of Mwurire and miners from Rutongo joined security organs in the day-and-night rescue shifts.
Medical personnel were also part of the rescue efforts.
“This is a concession that has been in use since colonial time. Although the mining activity was itself legal, we are in the rainy season, this can weaken the soils and cause it to collapse,” Rutaganira said.
“This is why we encourage miners to revise their safety plans, especially in such periods to ensure that their concessions are in proper state and safe before they start mining,” he added.
The rescue process was tricky since using machinery would have pushed the soils further inside the tunnel and potentially bury the four men. Rescuers opted for alternative means like electrical amour.
“We had to use several types of drilling equipment and different access strategies to reach the miners and to winch them to the surface,” the RPC said.
The miners were trapped in a distance of over 150 metres inside and around 20m deep.
Mwulire mining zone is rich in tin and tantalum.
“We assume the incident was largely caused by lack of knowledge on the patterns and intersections of the tunnels. This is why having site maps is very important,” Mbonyumuvunyi said.
An engineer, identified as Peter Slabbert, who is said to be an employee at the mining company and was part of the rescue team, is also admitted after he experienced oxygen shortage during the operation.
Dr Philbert Muhire, the head of Rwamagana hospital, said that given the days the miners spent underground and their current condition, they will be fine and will soon be discharged.
He said the main problem was the lack of oxygen for the miners, and having spent several days without food.
“When people spend almost four days underground, there are some diseases that they are likely to contract from there, that is why we are going to conduct a thorough screening to ensure they are in good health before discharging them,” he said.
Despite the fact that the patients were weak, they were found breathing and could still talk, the doctor said, adding that they were immediately put on oxygen and were given glucose “because it was what they needed most.”
Muhire said it is possible that the patients will be discharged by Wednesday.
Mbonyumuvunyi commended the effort by the more than 20 miners who tirelessly dug the mine until they helped rescue their colleagues.
“They have their way of communicating, when one hit with a hammer once or twice on the ground, they could hear another person inside responding by hitting the same, though they could not hear each other,” said Mbonyumuvunyi.
Pella Rwanda Resources Ltd is a South African company.

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