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Harmony Gold Fire Leaves 9 Miners Missing After 8 Rescue

Harmony Gold Mining Co. rescue teams that earlier saved eight workers are searching for nine missing men after a fire more than a mile below the surface of the Doornkop mine in South Africa.

Search and rescue, and deep-level firefighting teams were deployed after the fire started yesterday at about 6 p.m. local time 1,733 meters (5,700 feet) underground, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement. Rescuers reached eight trapped miners and brought them to the surface.

The workers who were saved are “well and in good spirits,” Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for Harmony at Russell & Associates, said in a phone interview. The 10 rescue teams have completed a search on the level where the incident occurred and have continued looking in other areas, she said.

The fire began after falling rock damaged power cables, the National Union of Mineworkers said. Ventilation and water pipes were also affected, increasing the threat to missing miners.

“We appeal to the rescue teams to do their best to fast track the operation of searching, especially that the compressed air and water pipes are affected,” Erick Gcilitshana, the union’s health and safety secretary, said in a statement. The NUM sought an urgent probe into the cause of the rock collapse, saying technology is available to monitor seismic threats.

Once the biggest gold producer, South Africa now has some of the world’s deepest mines as aging deposits prompt companies to dig deeper to reach ore. There were 112 deaths in the country in 2012, according to the Chamber of Mines industry lobby.

Deadliest Incident

South Africa’s deadliest incident was in 1960, when 437 miners were killed at the Coalbrook North Colliery after being trapped by a rock fall, according to the website of state-owned power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. In 1986, an underground fire killed 177 miners at the country’s Kinross gold mine.

Doornkop, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Johannesburg, produced 3,631 kilograms of gold in 2013, according to Harmony’s website. It is a single-shaft mine and runs to a depth of just under 2,000 meters. There were two fatalities at Doornkop in 2012 and none last year.

Mining has been suspended while rescue efforts continue. Harmony Gold Chief Executive Officer Graham Briggs canceled his appearance at the Investing in African Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town to head to the accident site.

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