Yoliswa Dube-Moyo, Head of Matabeleland South Office
IT took a lot of stamina to balance down a 240 meter deep shaft using a lifting rope attached to a harness.
The descent to meet death was not for the faint hearted as there were spatters of blood and human bones along the way.
After receiving a distress call about an accident at Bucks Mine in Colleen Bawn that left seven miners dead, the 13-man Vubachikwe Mine Rescue Team rose to the challenge and pulled through. unscathed.
Miners dove to their death after hoisting ropes to a dumpster to bring them up the 240m deep shaft that broke 15m from the surface.
Sources said the dumpster they were in had dragged the miners to the bottom of the shaft.
Rescuers spent more than 72 hours trying to pump water from the underground mine to recover the bodies of miners who were trapped underwater.
Some of the bodies recovered had been seriously injured, skin flaking off due to prolonged exposure to water.
Chronicle met with some of the rescue team members at their base in Vubachikwe to discuss the ins and outs of the rescue team and its operations.
“When we got to Bucks Mine, there were a few people there, the mood was dark.
Everyone was devastated, it was tense.
We were there to help the situation, otherwise, we would then abort the situation because according to our training, we are not supposed to endanger anyone.
We carried out a 360 degree inspection of the area after being made aware of what had happened,” said Mr. Noah Moyo, the team coach who was coordinating the operations.
He said there was an old man who managed to gain access to the area the night of the accident and that the information he relayed was not good.
“There were no survivors and there was water.
He had seen blood strewn everywhere, bones and hard hats falling everywhere, so there was no way to hope for a survivor.
There was no way we could have given up on the situation at that time,” he said.
Mr. Cleopas Karima, the captain of the team, said that after assessing the situation, they had to assess the underground scenario.
“We continued to assess the situation underground as the old man told us.
His name is Austin Sibanda.
After getting his information, it was also wise for us to assess the situation underground.
Myself and men from the brigade descended to assess the underground scenario.
From what we saw, it was obvious that there were no survivors.
There were bones along the way down to the lowest level.
We could see human body parts on the platform at level 7.
Our mission was to search and rescue.
Below, we saw overalls that showed that there were people in the water.
There was no choice but to pump the water out of the basement so we could see what was going on.
“We also tried measuring the water level by dipping a 15mm poly pipe and estimated it to be around six meters deep.
We installed a pump, but we encountered difficulties because all the hoses along the pump line were damaged. So we had to install a pumping line to be able to start pumping water.
We installed the level 8 pumping line which was the lower pumping level than level 5.
We installed another pump line from Level 4 to the surface.
We started pumping water around 10 p.m. on Sunday and gave ourselves 24 hours of water pumping,” Mr. Karima said.
Some men from the brigade were underground from Sunday to Tuesday as they had to watch the pump and communicate with those above ground.
“We had to go up and down the well to try to monitor the movement of the water.
Monday at 10 p.m., the pump had pumped 2 meters and there were 6 meters of pumping left.
We kept pumping until Monday midnight when we saw the first body.
There was no rest in between.
We just circled around.
If a man was tired, he was changed to another.
The pumping was continuous, so we weren’t resting,” Mr. Karima said.
What drove men forward was the desire to see results.
“When we started the mission, everyone was very excited to see the achievement.
Everyone was saying guys, let’s keep going until we’re done.
I still remember at one point the inspectors said no guys, you’ve been working for 24 hours, you better rest and continue the next day.
Everyone said no.
Everyone was eager to see the results.
Everyone was eager to finish.
Some of the guys went down from Sunday to Tuesday morning, they didn’t go up.
Food was served underground.
People were eating in that kind of scenario,” Mr. Karima said.
“We used a pipe to communicate.
We tried to introduce our own method of communication; in modern wells we use communication radios and communicate directly to the surface.
But in this situation, it seems that it was not user-friendly, so we had to use the pipes.
We would have someone at certain intervals who would shout the message to the person above or below them,” Mr Karima said.
One of the team members, Mr Mandigo Maguchu, said the Vumbachikwe Mine Rescue Team is trained to help in all situations outside their mine.
“We can handle any situation and we are not limited to mining accidents.
We also help people involved in road accidents etc.
When they are not helping the needy, the men of the brigade devote themselves to various occupations.
Mr. Moyo and Mr. Karima are mine captains, Mr. Kudakwashe Mpofu is a fitter and turner and I am a mining surveyor.
We also have metallurgists, geologists and other professionals in different departments.
We are all first responders and tend to the injured,” Maguchu said.
He said men from the brigade are selected to join the team from different departments, so various skills are brought to a rescue situation.
“At Bucks Mine, the installer evaluated the winch, he was also the one who installed the string mechanism which ensured that crew members were not trapped or injured along the way.
The miners on the team know how to handle gases, assess rigs and install pumps.
We have all the skills that might be needed in a rescue mission,” Maguchu said.
While the men in the brigade are trained to rescue, the burden on their family members was heavy as they were away from home for days.
He said the devastated parents of the trapped miners kindled something in them to fight until the end.
“We could see how much faith they had in us, so abandoning the mission was not an option.
They were in so much pain and desperate to see the body of a husband, father, brother, son or uncle.
So we couldn’t walk away from the situation,” Mr. Moyo said.
Another man from the brigade, Mr Kudakwashe Mpofu, said that as a trained rescue team, it was not possible to walk away from the situation, however serious it was.
He said that once the first body appeared, relatives began to have confidence in their operation.
The Vumbachikwe Mine Rescue Team undergoes regular refresher drills where they continually hone their skills.
“We also do physical training and simulation of things that can be encountered underground.
You have to be in good shape and be prepared for any accident.
We do physical training three times a week.
Sometimes we run, other days we lift weights and some days we do first aid,” Mr Moyo said.
As a farewell, the men of the brigade encouraged mine operators to follow safety rules and carry out regular risk assessments.
“The lifting cables are supposed to undergo regular stress tests and all equipment must be commissioned by the mines inspectorate before the start of operations,” Mpofu said.
– @ Yoliswa.