THE open pit mining accident at Aranka, Region 7, which claimed the lives of three men on Wednesday, was caused when mining activities led to the wall of the pit developing an unsupported overhang and collapsing, an official source said yesterday.
The source said that this happened when miners attempted to get at the gold bearing material under the overburden by working under the overburden rather than removing it first.
“The working face of the pit wall was undercut leaving it without a support base. This caused the wall to collapse. This material fell into the excavated pit, burying four men at the bottom,” the source said.
Of the four men buried under the sand and mud, only one survived.
Chronicle was advised that a team from the Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), which visited the area Wednesday, returned yesterday and has submitted a report to the leadership of the GGMC and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment that is currently being reviewed.
Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle said that a team from his ministry was preparing to travel along with other stakeholders to Aranka to get their own take on the deadly accident and `to help integrate Occupational Health and Safety Practices into open pit mining operations.
Three men died and two were injured when the walls of the open pit mine they were working in collapsed, burying them in tons of mud and sand.
Percy Lancaster, of Victoria Village, East Coast Demerara, one of the two injured, has been released from the Georgetown Public Hospital and credits his survival to a miracle.
He was one of the four men at the bottom of the pit and was working the hydraulic hose when the slope failure occurred.
He recalled, “I saw the wall come tumbling into the pit. I tried to run but there was nowhere to run. The pit was too narrow.”
He recalled being completely buried under the sand and mud.
In the total darkness, he managed to work his hand up to his nose and found that he was somehow getting a source of air.
“I kept my hand in front of my nose pushing away the sand and breathing while doing so,” he said.
He cannot recall for how long he was buried, but said that had his rescuers not got him out at the time they did, he doubted that he would have been alive today.
“Half an hour more and I would have been dead.”
Lancaster was air-dashed to the city Wednesday night and after medical observation and treatment, was discharged around 23:00hrs.
He is however still in pain and was yesterday considering seeking further medical attention.
Deryck Sinclair, 28, one of the rescuers, said yesterday that he was about ten minutes walking distance away from the scene when he heard of the pit wall collapse and the men being trapped under the mud and sand.
He ran to the scene and helped man a hydraulic hose which they used to wash away the overburden under which the four men were buried.
After about 20 minutes, he found Percy Lancaster under five feet of sand.
“When the water hit he, he ketch heself,” Sinclair said.
Devon Barry, 22, also called “Boongoo”, of Two Friends East Coast Demerara; Elson Singh, also known as “Johnny P”, of 47 of Middle Road Ann’s Grove, East Coast Demerara; and Deonarine Singh, 24, also known as “Chubby”, and also of Middle Road, Ann’s Grove, were not so lucky.
When found, they were already dead.
Post mortems are to be performed today.
A knowledgeable source in the small scale gold mining industry said that such slope failures are a major hazard in open pit mining operations.
“Everybody needs to be a safety officer. They need to look and listen. To check the pit walls regularly for cracks; to ensure that they remove the overburden over the gold bearing material completely before mining, rather than throwing caution to the wind, taking a chance and doing otherwise.”