A group of 39 miners trapped a kilometre underground in Canada are facing a 10-hour vertical climb to safety.
A rescue operation was under way on Tuesday at the Totten mine in Sudbury, Ontario, where the exhausted miners had been trapped between 900 and 1,200m underground for more than 36 hours.
The accident at the copper, nickel and precious metals mine occurred when a scoop bucket being sent underground detached on Sunday afternoon, blocking the mine’s shaft.
As a result, the lift system for taking workers to and from the surface could not be used and they were forced to seek shelter in a network of refuge stations.
Now, each will have to climb a ladder to the surface, with rest stops every 100 metres.
Totten Mine locator map
The mine is run by Brazilian firm Vale, whcih said that the trapped employees were all unharmed and had access to food and water. It has been reported that they have been able to speak to their families on the phone.
"The employees will exit via a secondary egress ladder system with support of Vale’s mine rescue team,” the company said.
A statement from the United Steelworkers, the union that represents 30 of the 39 workers trapped in the mine, said it was cautiously optimistic that all would be safely evacuated, and on Tuesday afternoon it was reported that around half of the group had made it back above ground.
Gord Gilpin, head of mining operations in Ontario for Vale said the company was “relieved and delighted to see these individuals returning to the surface safe and sound.
“There is no doubt this was and continues to be an exhausting experience. I commend them on their patience and their resolve.
“I also want to acknowledge the efforts of our mine rescue team and Totten responders who are working tirelessly to bring their colleagues to surface safely.”
Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, said his thoughts were with the miners.
"We understand this rescue will take some time and are very relieved to hear the miners are currently uninjured,” he said on Twitter.
Totten Mine opened in 2014 in Worthington, Ontario – the first mine to open in the area in 40 years, according to the company’s website. It produces copper, nickel and precious metals and employs about 200 people.
Kalem McSween, a spokesman for the province’s ministry of Labour, said in an email that an inspection team would investigate the incident once the rescue operation was finished.