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As Many As 100 Feared Dead in Gold Mine Accident

May 11, 1995 GMT

ORKNEY, South Africa (AP) _ An elevator in a gold mine fell 1,500 feet to the bottom of a mine shaft, killing as many as 100 people, mine officials and the government said today.

The elevator dropped down the shaft late Wednesday after a locomotive fell on it, and was lying at the bottom of the shaft 1 1/2 miles underground, said Dick Fisher, regional general manager of the Vaal Reefs mining company.

The accident at the Vaal Reefs shaft No. 2 at Orkney, 112 miles southwest of Johannesburg, occurred at the end of the night shift and the elevator was believed to be full of workers. Such cages can hold about 100 people.

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Some bodies were thrown out of the elevator and recovered, but scores more were believed to be inside the crushed car, Fisher said. He gave no figure for the number of bodies found, but said it was unlikely anyone survived.

Rescuers were studying the crushed elevator, which was half its original size, to determine the best way to open it and recover further bodies, Fisher said.

``Pieces of flesh were scattered all over ... as a two-floor mining carriage was crushed into a one-floor tin box,″ said James Motlasti, president of the National Union of Mineworkers.

About 400 other mine workers underground were brought safely to the surface, and rescuers were using a parallel shaft to reach the wreckage, mine officials said.

Friends of workers gathered outside their barracks-like dormitories. Most workers from the night shift remained inside, refusing to talk to reporters.

``Everyone is so frightened,″ said Whitecliff Mquwu, sitting with a friend who worked the night shift and got out safely. ``It’s fearful to be underneath.″

President Nelson Mandela expressed shock at the accident but declined further comment until more information became available.

Energy and Mineral Affairs Minister Pik Botha said it appeared human error was to blame, because the locomotive went through a safety barrier and fell into the shaft.

``The locomotive could not have moved as it did had it been properly controlled,″ Botha said in a statement. ``The driver is alive so he must have either jumped out of the locomotive or in any event was not in it.″

South Africa is the world’s leading gold producer and has some of the deepest mines. Accidents occur frequently and usually cause fatalities.

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The nation’s worst mining disaster occurred in 1960, when 437 workers were killed when trapped underground in a coal mine south of Johannesburg. The worst gold mining disaster occurred in 1909 when 152 miners died in a flooded mine.

Labor leader Sam Shilowa today called for an independent investigation, including foreign experts, to determine the cause of the accident. Shilowa is head of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, an umbrella group of mostly black labor organizations.

Botha agreed with the union demand.

``We cannot, in a tragedy of this nature, quibble about procedural matters,″ he told Radio 702.