More than 100 workers were crushed to death when a steel cage transporting them underground in a gold mine plunged a third of a mile and was flattened.
Officials said a locomotive traveling on the wrong tracks inexplicably smashed through a steel barrier in the shaft, severing the elevator cables and sending the men in the steel cage to their deaths at the end of their shift Wednesday night.
“There were pieces of flesh scattered all over,” James Motlatsi, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, said after visiting the gory subterranean scene. “This is a tragedy.”
The accident occurred at the Vaal Reefs Mine complex near this farming village, about 110 miles east of Johannesburg. The mines are owned by Anglo American Corp., the gold and diamond conglomerate that controls much of the world’s precious metals.
Mining officials expressed horror at the disaster, the third worst in the history of South Africa, the world’s largest producer of gold.
“This particular accident has left me devastated, and shows we still have a long way to go” in safety measures, said Clem Sunter, chairman of Anglo American’s gold and uranium division.
Officials said the steel cage - a barred elevator that transports workers up and down some of the world’s deepest mine shafts - was traveling down when a locomotive that ferries materials and mine waste crashed through protective barriers and plunged after the slowly moving cage. The locomotive broke off the elevator cables just when the cage was one-third of a mile from the bottom of the 1.5-mile-deep shaft.