Mine death toll now at 78

GRIM TASK: Rescue workers load miners' bodies into mortuary vans. circa June 2009. © Unknown.
GRIM TASK: Rescue workers load miners' bodies into mortuary vans. circa June 2009. © Unknown.

AS more bodies are retrieved from the disused mine shaft at Eiland mine in Welkom, Free State, more people are arriving at the government mortuary to identify their loved ones.

The identification process started on Sunday.

The first group of dead miners was retrieved about a kilometre underground. Yesterday 15 more corpses were found in the same mine shaft, raising the number of the dead to 78.

"We have decided to dedicate the next two weeks to identifying the bodies. We will do it daily between 1pm to 2pm," said Superintendent Sam Makhele.

He said police had not yet charged the six suspects, five men and a woman, who were taken in for questioning on Wednesday in connection with the illegal mining at the shaft.

"We are still questioning them and we hope the information we get will lead to more arrests," Makhele said.

He said the decision to lay formal charges against the six will be taken today .

Counselling was organised for families to prepare them before identifying the bodies.

Sarah Lekale of Gold Fields' family advice organisation said: "We will assist the families with debriefing and trauma counselling."

Lekale said relatives had to know what to expect considering the decomposition of most of the bodies, who are thought to have died of gas inhalation. The extreme heat in the shaft also led to the rapid deterioration of the bodies.

Pathologist Jeanne du Toit said DNA testing was " the only option of identification".

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