DAR ES SALAAM • Five Tanzanian gold miners have been rescued after spending 41 days trapped deep underground, eating cockroaches and frogs to survive.
The miners were among a group of about 20 who were in a pit when a shaft they were working on collapsed on Oct 5. While 14 escaped as the shaft collapsed, six were trapped. One of the miners died during their incarceration.
The remaining five were rescued on Sunday and are reportedly in a serious condition in hospital.
"The miners were very weak," Minister of Energy and Mines spokesman Badra Masoud said yesterday.
The survivors described the horror of surviving in the darkness, taking shelter in a chamber where they had stored their tools, eating insects and sipping foul, muddy water.
"We were around 20 in the pit that collapsed; some of our colleagues made it out, but six remained trapped underground," survivor Chacha Wambura told state television.
The local miners were digging for gold in the north-western Shinyanga region, some 900km west of the economic capital Dar es Salaam, when the shaft collapsed behind them.
Initially, they had the light from their helmet lamps and mobile phones, but it soon ran out.
Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen said the Mining Ministry described the rescue as "a miracle", while local officials were initially in disbelief that the miners could be freed after being trapped underground for so long.
Local police commander Justus Kamugisha said that the miners were all believed to have died in the collapse, but other miners crawling down a separate shaft were startled to hear voices coming from the darkness.
"They heard voices of people calling out for help," Mr Kamugisha said. "The men left the mines as they thought the voices were evil spirits, but they reported the incident to the local officials."
Rescue efforts were launched last Saturday, finally freeing the five still alive the following day.