Indonesia ends search for victims of gold mine collapse

Authorities in Indonesia have ended the official search for dozens of victims of a gold mine collapse because conditions are too risky

BOLAANG MONGONDOW, Indonesia -- The risk to rescuers from constant rock falls has ended the search for dozens of victims of an Indonesian gold mine collapse, the search and rescue agency said Thursday, leaving an unknown number buried in the mine.

Budi Purnama, director of operations at the national agency, said the remains of 27 people have been recovered, based on intact bodies and body parts found.

The grueling 10-day rescue effort in remote steep terrain pulled 20 people alive from the unlicensed mine in North Sulawesi but two later died, including a man whose leg was amputated to free him.

Indonesia's disaster agency has said as many as 100 people were in the mine when it collapsed Feb. 26.

"During our last three hours of operations the rocks kept falling and we decided to stop," Purnama told reporters at the mine in Bolaang Mongondow district. "Cave access that we had opened was completely blocked by rocks and rubble."

He said a crack in the earth also continued to spread, endangering the entire area if the rescue operation, which involved trying to move huge rocks, continued.

Informal mining operations are commonplace in Indonesia, providing a tenuous livelihood to thousands who labor in conditions with a high risk of serious injury or death.

Rescuers numbering more than 200 initially used their bare hands and shovels to find victims and fashioned stretchers from branches, twine and other materials to carry survivors away from the mine.

So far, 21 of the dead have been identified, Purnama said, and a forensic team is working to identify two others. The local government buried one unidentified body and five body bags of human remains in a mass grave.