South African authorities said Wednesday they had recovered two bodies of illegal diamond miners from a disused mine tunnel and up to 16 were still trapped underground.
“They’ve taken one body out, and they’ve seen the other body with the cameras,” De Beers spokesman Abel Madonsela.
The accident happened at a mine in Kleinzee, one of the small mining towns in the arid region of Namaqualand, in the Northern Cape province, known for its natural flower splendour.
According to a radio 702 report, three bodies were recovered from the mine.
“The problem is it’s very dangerous. The gravel is so loose, the holes are caving in,” police spokeswoman Cherelle Ehlers told AFP.
“At this stage we think 16 are trapped underground, “
Mining is the lifeblood of the Northern Cape, the country’s most sparsely-populated province.
De Beers stopped operations in Namaqualand around three years ago pending the mines’ sale to fellow miner Trans Hex, which signed a 225-million-rand ($27-million, 21-million-euro) acquisition deal last year.
The mining giant closed down access to the mines in April when it discovered illegal miners from the area had started work in the tunnels.
Accidents involving illegal miners are common in South Africa, where impoverished diggers often take great risks to carve out tunnels or work in disused shafts at diamond and gold mines.