Several Dead and Injured After Illegal Indonesian Gold Mine Collapses

Efforts are being made to find at least 37 people who are feared to be buried following the collapse of an illegal gold mine on the island of Sulawesi late on Tuesday (February 27).

As reports from Indonesia come in, media outlets are being told that rescuers have pulled approximately 19 individuals out of the rubble, while at least four people have been declared dead and many others are believed to be alive but trapped.

“We are able to detect that many of them are still alive because we can hear their voices, as there are some places where air is getting in and out and there are gaps in the mud,” Abdul Muin Paputungan of Indonesia’s disaster agency to Reuters.

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The injured were seen being carried in ambulances to a nearby hospital, as at least 60 officials and volunteers congregated to retrieve those still stuck within the collapsed mine.

Unfortunately, rescuers were forced to use simple tools due to the fact that conditions remained dangerous, as the land is still prone to shifting and sliding.

While the Indonesian government has banned such small-scale gold mining projects, it is well-known that regional authorities often turn a blind eye to these illegal structures in more remote areas. Without much regulation, mines such as these are often prone to accidents.

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said that the cause of the collapse came when beams and support boards broke suddenly around the workers.

“Evacuation efforts continued through the night because of the number of people estimated to be buried,” Nugroho noted.

This incident continues to increase the conversation around mine safety, as it is the second deadly accident in a month.

Towards the end of January, Vale’s (NYSE:VALE) Dam 1 of the Córrego do Feijão mine near Brumadinho in south-eastern Brazil collapsed, killing more than 300 people.

This is also not the first time that an illegal mine in the Indonesian area has been the cause of multiple fatalities. At least five people were killed in Sulawesi last year after an illegal mine collapsed during heavy rain.

Agung Pribadi, a spokesman for Indonesia’s mining ministry, revealed that three mining inspectors have also been sent to the location of the wreckage in order to assist in the rescue. Pribadi also noted that illegal mines were thought to be shut down in that area but they must have “started again.”

Gatot Sugiharto, who heads a group called the Citizens Mining Association, is not entirely surprised by the news, as he estimates that there were about 200 similar unlicensed mines around Indonesia, with 10 in the Sulawesi area alone.

He also added that these types of mines often operate within a grey area, as authorities are reluctant to give them permits because it would mean both official supervision and attention to safety.

In terms of how Sugiharto sees the outcome for the remaining individuals still trapped underneath the debris, he believes that an experienced miner might be able to survive for up to three or four days — provided they find air pockets and are not under the weight of rocks.

“They can breath slowly and usually they don’t panic. If there is no poisonous gas they can survive for some time,” he said.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Nicole Rashotte, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.  

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