photo Fading fast: Workers surround an ambulance following the freeing of a trapped worker on Friday. On Saturday, 23 PT Freeport Indonesia workers were still trapped the company’s site in Mimika, Papua. (Antara/Freeport)
About 23 PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI) workers were still trapped in a landslide at the Bog Gossan training facility at the company’s site in Mimika, Papua, as of Saturday.
PTFI has reportedly opened access to the landslide location and “Lifepak 3” detectors are being used in the search for survivors.
PTFI Mining General Manager Nurhadi Sabirin, who also leads the evacuation team, said that Lifepak 3 was able to detect vibrations equal to a human heartbeat.
“We have not found any signs of life during the last 72 hours,” Nurhadi said as quoted by Antara news agency on Saturday.
Nurhadi said rescuers had been working around the clock to save the remaining 23 trapped workers, adding that the longer it went on, the smaller chances of finding any survivors.
The evacuation has been hampered by the confined space in the tunnel.
President Director of PTFI Rozik B. Soetjipto said that PTFI, Indonesian affiliation of US-based miner Freeport McMoran Copper & Co., would conduct a thorough investigation to find the cause of the tragedy.
“We will make use of international experts and involve the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry in the investigation,” he said, ensuring that similar accident would never happen again.
Earlier, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero Wacik said that two mining inspectors and the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry’s director general for minerals and coal had flown to the site to observe the situation and oversee the evacuation.
The initial investigations points to bad weather and subterranean vibrations as the cause of the landslide.
The landslide hit the Big Gossan training facility on Tuesday at around 7:45 a.m. and buried dozens of PTFI workers.
Vice President Corporate Communications of PTFI Daisy Primayanti said that there had been a misunderstanding regarding the number of victims.
“Earlier, it was reported there were 39 workers trapped, but later we found out a worker managed to escape, uninjured,” said Daisy.
Of the 38 workers; 10 survived, five are known to have been killed, while the condition of the rest remains unknown, but hopes of finding any more survivors are fading by the hour.
Five survivors have been airlifted to Jakarta and five others are still being treated at Tembagapura Hospital, Papua.
PTFI, which operates the Grasberg Mine in Papua and has the largest gold reserves and the second-largest copper mine in the world, is suspending its mining operations as a mark of condolence for those who died.
Similar incidents have ever occurred in the past few years.
In December 2009, one worker died and four were injured in another landslide at the site. In May 2008, at least 20 more were buried in a landslide at PTFI’s tailing area due to heavy rain. The victims were not employees of PTFI.
Three people were killed after a landslide buried a cafeteria at the Grasberg mine in March 2006, while in October 2003, a another landslide killed 14.
Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called on Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. to step up rescue efforts at the world’s second-largest copper mine, where 23 people are unaccounted for after a tunnel collapsed, killing five workers.
Mining has been halted since the collapse at the Grasberg complex in Indonesia on May 14, according to a statement from local unit Freeport Indonesia.
Two passages have been cleared to allow heavy machinery access to the accident site, where 38 workers may have been in a classroom at an underground training facility, the company said in a statement on May 17.
Ten survivors have been evacuated and are reported to be in a stable condition, the company said.
“I have asked PT Freeport and apparatus to intensify rescue,” Yudhoyono said in a statement on his official Twitter account. “With the accident in Freeport, I asked all companies in Indonesia to improve the safety of their workers.”
Grasberg in Mimika, Papua, about 3,120 kilometers east of Jakarta, includes underground and open-pit operations and is the world’s second-biggest by output, Freeport said in a March 14 presentation.
The complex generated $3.92 billion of revenue for Freeport last year, or 16 percent of the Phoenix-based company’s sales. Freeport owns 91 percent of the mine, which also produces gold, and Indonesia’s government holds the rest, according to the company’s website.
Freeport Indonesia continues to devote every available resource to the rescue effort, mine general manager Nurhadi Sabirin, who heads the emergency response team, said in a statement on Saturday.
“But as more time passes the possibility of there being any survivors becomes less likely,” he said.
Rescuers spotted six bodies on May 18 but were unable to retrieve them because of falling debris, the Associated Press reported, citing Freeport Indonesia president director Rozik B. Soetjipto.
The labor union is calling on the government to conduct a thorough investigation of the accident, said Virgo Solossa, head of Mimika branch of the All-Indonesian Workers Union in the Chemical, Energy and Mining Sectors, whose members include the labor union at Freeport Indonesia.
“The investigation must be transparent and comprehensive to find, not only the cause, but also people that are responsible for the accident,” Solossa said May 17 by phone from Mimika. “We demanded that all operations at Freeport remain halted until the investigation is concluded, that is the least they can do to value the life and the families of the victims.”
The government would seek to improve mining safety procedures, Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa told reporters in Jakarta on May 17.
“A government team will conduct an investigation and after they’re finished, we will see what needs to be done,” he said. “This can be used as a lesson on how we can strengthen the safety of underground mining.”
Freeport Indonesia was still shipping concentrate as of Saturday, Daisy Primayanti, vice president of corporate communications at the company, said by mobile-phone text message on Saturday.
The company used concentrate that was delivered to the port site before it suspended operations, she said.
Freeport has suspended the negotiation process for the 2013-2015 Collective Labor Agreement because of the accident, it said in the statement. The company and its labor union had started contract negotiations on May 13.
Output at Grasberg was disrupted in 2011 and 2012 after labor unrest and violence. The company said in a February filing that 15 people died and 57 were injured in 37 shooting incidents in and around the complex between July 2009 and Feb. 15 this year.
BHP Billiton Ltd.’s Escondida mine in Chile is the world’s largest copper mine.