Rescuers continue search for missing miner

June 24, 2011

Rescue teams continued to look for a lone man trapped in the depths of the Santa Pancha mine in northwestern Nicaragua late this week.

Miner Víctor Vílchez was unable to escape an inundating flood of the mine last Saturday that injured and nearly trapped some 25 other miners, reported AFP. 

Efforts to find Vílchez have continued throughout the week but have so far been met with little success. A team of divers entered the flooded main ramp last Monday in an unsuccessful attempt to find Vílchez. The Canadian business B2Gold, responsible for the operation, said they believe Vílchez would be able to sustain himself for a period of time in the mine’s gallery, but divers have been unable to reach the area, AFP reported.

According to mine authorities, the flooding occurred during an intense rainstorm of two hours. A dike collapsed on a nearby riverbed, causing water to flood into the mineshaft. A wave of mud and water went into the mine, first inundating old tunnels and then making its way into tunnels where miners were working. Twenty-five workers were saved after being struck by the wall of water. They were able to pull themselves out by grabbing on to tubing in the mineshaft.

The rescue operations for Vílchez intensified during the middle of the week. Business and municipal authorities used pumps in an attempt to drain water from the mine. The most recent reports indicate they managed to descend the level of water to 1.5 meters, according to reports given to AFP by B2Gold.

“This situation is encouraging since the level of water has been reduced in all the galleries. The volume is unimaginable,” said Jorge Martínez, a company official.

Despite the dire circumstances, relatives and friends of Vílchez, 35, remained on the outskirts of the mine, maintaining hope that he is alive.

“The tunnel ziz-zags up and down and he could have remained in one of the higher zones, where the water could not have reached,” Lee Marvin Alemán told AFP. Alemán, a companion of Vílchez, managed to leave the mine after the incident.

He said miners in the tunnel listened to a deafening noise as a strong current of water filled with rocks came towards them in the mine. “I managed to leave because I was some 80 meters from one of the emergency exits,” he said. “We used the ventilation tubing to pull ourselves out, but there was no exit where Victor ran.”

Some experts say the flooding of the mine was due to a lack of precautions by the company.

In December, reports of cave-ins and sinking were not acted upon by the company, according to a Nuevo Diario report. In addition, the publication wrote that complaints from workers were not met with an adequate response.

Humberto Rivas, secretary general of the mining union, accused the business of irresponsible practices. He said B2GOLD breached the recommendations from the Labor Ministry after a cave-in occurred in the same place on Dec. 16 of last year.

According to a review, the new cave-in was caused by over exploitation of previously mined areas of the site.  “Those responsible for what has occurred are the business owners,” Rivas told Nuevo Diario. “They never complied with the regulations and legal requirements in place.”

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