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8 feared dead in Indonesia illegal gold mine tragedy

Unlicensed mines are common across the mineral-rich Southeast Asian archipelago and accidents are frequent
Members of Indonesian search and rescue team carry a generator during a search operation for trapped miners in Banyumas on July 30

Members of Indonesian search and rescue team carry a generator during a search operation for trapped miners in Banyumas on July 30. (Photo: AFP)

Published: July 31, 2023 05:01 AM GMT
Updated: July 31, 2023 12:37 PM GMT

Eight people trapped in an illegal gold mine on the Indonesian island of Java are feared dead, a local rescue official said Sunday, as search efforts entered a fifth day with little progress.

Unlicensed mines -- many with disregard for basic safety measures -- are common across the mineral-rich Southeast Asian archipelago and accidents are frequent.

The workers were digging inside a hole with a depth of 60 meters (200 feet) in Pancurendang village in Central Java on Tuesday evening when water suddenly flooded the illegal mine.

Rescuers had deployed water pumps around the clock and worked to dam a nearby river in a frantic bid to get the water out of the mining shaft but it remained flooded on Sunday.

"This is already the fifth day. We expect the bad news that the victims have died," local search and rescue agency head Adah Sudarsa told reporters Sunday.

Sudarsa said the rescue effort would continue until Tuesday in the hope of retrieving the miners' bodies, which are yet to be found.

Authorities had planned to deploy divers to find the miners but local rescue official Priyo Prayudha Utama told AFP "it was not possible" because the mine shaft was too narrow.

Most of the trapped miners had moved from West Java to mine in the region, police said.

On Friday police charged four people with allegedly operating the mine without a permit.

The suspects, including one who remains at large, face up to five years in prison and 100 billion rupiah ($6.6 million) in fines.

In 2021, six people were killed on Sulawesi island after an illegal gold mine collapsed.

At least 16 people were killed two years earlier when another illegal gold mine on the island collapsed and buried the workers.

In 2016, 11 miners died after a mudslide engulfed an illegal gold mine in Sumatra's Jambi province.

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