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Miners Trapped at Giant Freeport Mine in Papua

  • Kate Lamb

Workers from Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc gather during a protest over an accident where 39 workers attending an underground training were trapped when a tunnel collapsed, at Mile 72, near the mining area in Tembagapura of Papua province May 15, 201

Workers from Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc gather during a protest over an accident where 39 workers attending an underground training were trapped when a tunnel collapsed, at Mile 72, near the mining area in Tembagapura of Papua province May 15, 201

Rescue workers in a remote region of West Papua, in eastern Indonesia, are continuing efforts to free 23 miners trapped in an underground gold and copper mine. Five miners were killed when the mine tunnel collapsed.

Thirty-nine Freeport workers were reportedly undergoing safety training in an underground training facility at Freeport-McMoRan's Grasberg mine when the tunnel collapsed Tuesday.

Freeport officials confirm five deaths from the accident. Rescuers have managed to evacuate 11 survivors, all reportedly in stable condition.

But the fate of the 23 employees still underground remains unclear.

Rescuers are pumping oxygen into the tunnel as they work to retrieve those trapped, in what the company says has been a delicate rescue effort.

The confined space and potential instability of the tunnel initially warranted the use of manual jacks, saws and wheelbarrows, until heavy-duty equipment could safely be employed Thursday.

Daisy Primayanti, vice president of corporate communications at PT Freeport Indonesia, the local subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan, said the rescue team has been working continuously to unblock access to the tunnel.

“Now it looks like they have been unable to unblock the access to the tunnel, so we are hoping that we can evacuate more and more survivors," she said. "We hope that with heavy equipment being involved now we could expedite the process.”

Primayanti said there should be significant developments on rescue efforts Friday.

The rescue efforts are being conducted jointly by PT Freeport Indonesia, local police and the Indonesian military.

Freeport has suspended production at the mining site for two days now -- a move it says is out of respect for the deceased and injured workers.

Up to 1,000 angry workers reportedly protested near the mine on Wednesday, the latest in a string of protests that have hindered production over recent years.

In 2011, workers at the Grasberg mine staged a three-month strike that was finally resolved when a significant wage increase was granted.

The Grasberg mine is the second-largest copper mine in the world and has the world’s largest reserves of gold.

Landslides at the Grasberg mine, which employs 24,000 workers, have claimed 11 lives since 2003.

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