Miners trapped: Now freed from debris, some stay trapped for fear of arrest

Miners, trapped in an abandoned gold mine in South Africa, faced a miserable choice: Stay underground or emerge and be arrested for illegal mining. So far, 21 miners have emerged, but hundreds more may remain trapped in the mine.

Emergency rescue workers attempt to free trapped illegal miners at a disused gold mine shaft near Benoni, South Africa, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Rescue teams were able to speak to about 30 miners near the top of an old gold mine shaft whose entrance was covered by a large rock. Those miners said as many as 200 others were trapped further down a steep tunnel at the mine in Benoni, on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

At least 21 miners in South Africa who were trapped by debris in an abandoned mine shaft and later rescued face charges of illegal mining, authorities said Monday.

Ten miners emerged from the mine shaft near Johannesburg on Monday, one day after emergency responders rescued a group of 11, the South African Press Association reported. The men were in good health and rescue workers handed them over to police.

Emergency workers have said some of the miners who were working illegally were reluctant to come out of the shaft because they feared arrest. The trapped miners were discovered after police patrolling in the area heard shouting beneath a mine entrance that had been blocked by a large boulder, according to local media.

"We had men who came halfway up the shaft but then turned around. Our rescue members cannot go down the shaft because it is too dangerous," the South African news agency quoted rescue worker David Tshabalala as saying.

It was unclear how many other miners were still below ground because those who have come out have not divulged information, he said. Food and water were sent down to the miners on Sunday.

"We will wait to see what the other miners that have been rescued can tell us and maybe we can negotiate with" the miners who remain underground, said Sugan Moodley, a spokesman for emergency services.

Penalties for illegal mining include fines and prison time in some cases. Illegal mining is common in South Africa, a major producer of gold and platinum.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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