Freeport mine collapse claims two lives, 31 trapped

Two workers have died and 31 others were trapped after a tunnel caved in at a mine in remote eastern Indonesia on Tuesday.

The accident occurred at one of the largest gold and copper mines in the world, Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg.

“Four people have been evacuated alive with injuries, and around 30 more are still trapped underground so we don’t know their condition,” local police chief Jermias Rontini said.

He added those rescued alive were at the hospital but he was unaware of their state. But he did not hold much hope for those still trapped.

“In the past, similar tunnel collapses caused fatalities as people who were trapped couldn’t get enough oxygen,” he said.

The AFP reported a group of 40 Freeport employees and contract workers were in a classroom at the mine site when a section of the tunnel crumpled, Freeport Indonesia said.

“Rescuers at the scene have reported that they have rescued four workers and found two bodies,” the company, a local subsidiary of the mining giant, said in a statement.

“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased,” Freeport Indonesia president Rozik B. Soetjipto said.

The police and the company did not say what triggered the collapse.

The company added production would not be affected.

The nationalities of employees involved have not been revealed, but most of the 24,000 workers at the mine are Indonesian.

The tunnel is situated high in the mountains of jagged Papua province and it crumpled at around 8am local time on Tuesday.

It has not been easy to access, Rontini said.

The Indonesian mine has been plagued with many problems in the past including a strike in 2011 that lasted three months.

It disrupted production and only ended when the company agreed to substantial pay hikes.

The strike brought violence between police and gunmen around the mine, with at least 11 people killed, all Indonesians.

Around 1,100 workers employed by Freeport contractors went on strike for three days earlier this month over pay but it did not greatly hinder production.

Later, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warned Australians to be careful if travelling around the Freeport mine after it received information on planned attacks near the operation.

 Attacks and unrest led to the death of one Australian at the mine earlier this year.

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