Vaal Reef Gold Mine Elevator Disaster

Deep, dirty, and dangerous - the life of a South African goldminer is often short and brutal.

More than 69,000 miners were killed in work-related accidents between 1911 and 1994. On May 10, 1995, this horrific safety record dropped still further when 105 miners tumbled to their death down a lift shaft at the Vaal Reefs gold mine. The tragedy is the worst elevator disaster ever recorded. The elevator entombing the miners gained such vicious velocity that on impact it collapsed to a third of its original size.

"Pieces of flesh were scattered all over," said Union president James Motlatsi immediately after the tragedy. "A two-floor mining elevator was crushed into a one-floor tin box." The disaster struck when a runaway train plunged down Vaal Reef's number 2 shaft. The train crashed on top of an elevator carrying miners to the deep gold seams - sending those trapped inside hurtling to their death 2.3 kilometers (1.4 miles) below the surface.

More than 100 mine workers were crushed to death when a 12-ton underground train engine and carriage plunged down a vertical mine shaft and pulverized their crowded elevator, officials said Thursday. Officials at the Vaal Reefs Mine, one of this country's richest gold mines, announced that no survivors were found when rescue workers reached the twisted metal and mangled bodies almost 1 1/2 miles underground. The two-tiered elevator cage was packed with workers changing shifts about 10:30 p.m.

Rescuers began removing bodies yesterday from the twisted wreckage of an elevator that plunged a third of a mile to the bottom of a deep shaft with at least 100 gold miners on board.

Officials said it is unlikely that anyone survived the accident Wednesday night in Orkney, 112 miles southwest of Johannesburg.

A locomotive moving through the wrong tunnel crashed through barriers and fell onto the elevator, which was filled with workers leaving the mine at the end of their shift, said Dick Fisher, regional general manager of the Vaal Reefs mining company.

The cable snapped and the metal cage plunged 1,650 feet to the bottom of the 1.4-mile-deep mine.

At least 100 people were in the two-floor elevator. The impact left the elevator's bottom level only 18 inches high, Fisher said.