Rescuers recover all 28 bodies from collapsed underground classroom at Freeport Indonesia mine

TIMIKA, Indonesia – Rescuers on Wednesday recovered the last of 28 miners killed last week when an underground room of a giant Indonesian gold and copper mine collapsed, the operator of the U.S.-owned facility said.

Thirty-eight workers had been undergoing safety training inside the Big Gossan facility in the province of Papua when the roof collapsed May 14. Ten injured miners were rescued.

A statement from PT Freeport Indonesia said its 200-member Emergency Response Team worked round the clock in narrow tunnels and loose rock before finally recovering and identified the last victim early Wednesday.

“We continue to grieve with the families even as we close this grim chapter of the Big Gossan incident,” said Rozik B. Soetjipto, president director of the company. “There is still much to do for us to provide the best care and support for the injured and the families of the bereaved.”

Operations at the Grasberg mine, owned by Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., have been suspended since the accident to respect the victims and concentrate on the recovery effort. The company said it expected the accident to have no significant impact on operations at one of the world’s largest single producers of both copper and gold.

In Jakarta, Richard Adkerson, president and CEO of Freeport-McMoRan, said the company will take all measures needed to guarantee safety for its workers.

“We recognized this is our responsibility and we have to be responsible in the right way,” Adkerson said at a news conference at the office of Indonesia’s mines and energy ministry.

“With the recovery work now completed, we are now engaging in a process of reviewing safety throughout our underground operations and in determining what caused the collapse,” Adkerson said. He promised co-operation with government investigators.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had ordered officials to thoroughly investigate to accident to find out what has to be done to ensure mining safety.

“We will evaluate all mining companies in the country, not only Freeport,” Yudhoyono said after presiding over a meeting Tuesday to discuss the accident.

Around 1,000 workers are still blocking a main road about two miles (three kilometres) from the accident site. A union leader, Virgo Salosa, said the blockade would continue until May 31 “to mourn the victims and to give time for discussion (with management) about our safety.”

More than 20,000 workers are employed at the mine, which has repeatedly been targeted by arson, roadside bombs and blockades since production began in the 1970s. It is located in the remote mountains of resource-rich but impoverished Papua, which is home to a decades-long, low-level separatist insurgency.