These men are preparing for their test at South Africa’s Mines Rescue Services (MRS), an elite unit dedicated to saving lives in a country with the deepest mines in the world.
The trainees have only one shot at becoming a “brigadesman”, as the rescuers are known. There is no second chance if they fail the initial one-week training course. Thus many candidates throw in the towel.
“The first day is the physical challenge, the hardest and the second day, with claustrophobia, two guys in general tap out. So in the end, if we have a class of 12, and can keep 7 members, that is a good result,” said MRS assistant superintendent, Gerrit Beukes.
Just this year alone, 77 accidents were recorded in the mines in South Africa, down from 615 in 1993. Most of them happen in illegal mines.
“Today we spend more time trying to save lives in illegal mines than in normal mines, it is really a major problem. When we go there, conditions are extremely dangerous. It’s very difficult to intervene in terms of infrastructure there,” said Christo de Klerk, MRS Chief Executive Officer.
He recalled an incident in May 2012 where the service was called out to a disused mine and saved 22 illegal diggers over a three-day period.
In February this year, three mineworkers were trapped underground inside a steel shipping container used as an office after it was swallowed by a sinkhole at a mine in the east of the country.
Eighty-seven workers survived, but after desperate attempts to reach the container, rescue efforts were suspended for safety reasons and the three remain buried.
MRS officials says some women have taken the brigadesman test, but none have passed in the rescue service’s 92-year history. The unit currently consists of 900 men across the country.
Photo Credit: minesrescue.co.za