JEFREY PATTIRAJAWANE,Associated Press
TIMIKA, Indonesia (AP) – Rescuers searching for 23 trapped workers at a giant U.S.-owned gold and copper mine in Indonesia spotted six bodies Saturday but weren’t able to immediately retrieve them because of falling debris, a company official said.
The collapse at the Big Gossan underground training facility at the PT Freeport Indonesia mine happened last Tuesday when 38 workers were undergoing safety training.
Ten miners were rescued and five bodies have been recovered since then.
“Rescuers have spotted six bodies, but sudden falling debris prevented them from taking them,” said Rozik B. Soetjipto, president director of PT Freeport Indonesia. “Hopefully they could be picked up tonight.”
Nurhadi Sabirin, head of the company’s emergency response team, said vibrations have been detected that could be a human heartbeat, but they could also have resulted from a number of other causes.
“We have not detected any other potential signs of life in the past 72 hours,” Sabirin said in a statement. He said rocks falling down from above were slowing the progress of rescuers.
“We continue to carry out these efforts nonstop, 24 hours a day as quickly as can be done safely to do everything possible to save lives, but as more time passes the possibility of there being any survivors becomes less likely,” Sabirin said.
Mining operations at the Grasberg mine in remote Mimika district in the easternmost province of Papua have been suspended since Tuesday to pay respects to the victims and to concentrate on rescue operations. The company said the accident was expected to have no significant impact on its operations.
Around 1,000 workers are still blocking a main road about two miles (three kilometers) from the accident site in solidarity with the victims, and also to seek a guarantee of safety in working underground.
Ronald Waromi, an action organizer, said they also wanted to make sure that mining activities would continue to be halted so the company would focus on rescue efforts.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered Freeport and government agencies to thoroughly investigate the accident.
More than 20,000 workers are employed at the mine owned by Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. in the restive province, which holds some of the world’s largest gold and copper reserves.
Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.