At South African mine, it’s a long, long way down

April 4, 2014 • World News

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, mine workers operate a rock driller at South Deep, 45 km south-west of Johannesburg. Miners work some 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) underground in 12-hour shifts, where safety is a constant concern and everyone depends on everyone else to stick to precautions. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

WESTONARIA, South Africa (AP) — For those who grumble about their daily commute, imagine this ride to work: clamber into an elevator cage and plummet 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) into the earth, so fast that ears pop from the changing air pressure. Then board a small railroad car that creaks and grinds the same distance to the outer reaches of a South African gold mine.

It gets humid down below. Sweat flows. For the unaccustomed, the din of drills and other machinery is disorienting. Travelers are weighed down by boots and a jumpsuit, a helmet with a mounted flashlight and a “self-rescuer,” a metal canister with a breathing tube and an oxygen supply in case something goes wrong.

Miners have a chain of command, but the extreme conditions are a kind of leveler.

“We’re all equal underground,” Gerard Pienaar, senior operations manager at South Deep mine, said on a recent tour of the flagship operation of Login to read more

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