Home NewsAustralia Coober Pedy is renowned for its opals — but Andy searches its mines for something far more precious

Coober Pedy is renowned for its opals — but Andy searches its mines for something far more precious

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In Australia’s opal capital, Andy Sheils goes underground looking out for one thing far more treasured than a rainbow-coloured fortune.

For 40 years, he has gone searching for life.

“Again within the 70s and 80s, it was very wild round right here and no person was very security aware again then, so we have been dropping fairly a number of miners,” Mr Sheils recalled.

Mr Sheils’s foremost focus, in Coober Pedy in South Australia’s far north, has been rescuing those that have struck bother.

“There are 2 million 20-to-30-metre-deep mine shafts round right here,” he stated.

“The odd miner would fall in a shaft, the vacationers would fall in a shaft.”

On innumerable events, Mr Sheils has ventured into the city’s subterranean surrounds.

He admits there have been grim emergencies he would somewhat neglect.

A group in orange protective clothing stand together in front of a mine rescue practice shaft
The Coober Pedy mine rescue crew often practice to maintain their expertise as much as scratch.(ABC Information: Haidarr Jones)

However he is aware of that, with out the city’s mine rescue crew, the prospects could be a lot worse for these making an attempt to strike it wealthy.

“[For] one of many first rescues, one of many miners went and received the native priest to go down the opening, after which we have been sending nurses down,” he stated.

Saving a life the ‘neatest thing you are able to do’

Coober Pedy as soon as relied on a comparatively rag-tag crew of rescuers to maintain secure these looking for its iridescent gem stones.

However right this moment, that crew has morphed right into a slick State Emergency Service (SES) squad.

The unit is multipurpose, and sometimes responds to highway crashes in SA’s distant far north, together with alongside the Stuart Freeway that connects Adelaide to the Northern Territory.

However it’s the solely SES crew within the state certified to rescue individuals from opal mines.

Unit supervisor Anthony Daelman-Whitaker stated, regardless of enhancements to mine know-how and security, the unit’s work was nonetheless essential. 

Emergency service workers crowd around a hole as a miner is winched to safety
The Coober Pedy SES mine rescue crew helped retrieve a 62-year-old miner who had turn out to be trapped simply earlier than Christmas in 2021.(Provided: SA Police)

These dangers, he stated, embrace these posed by hydraulics and different equipment.

“In the event that they’re utilizing turbines, they’re placing fumes down right into a mineshaft they usually might suffocate themselves,” he stated.

“It additionally presents numerous threat for us when we have to go and rescue somebody from underground.”

The squad’s significance was emphasised within the lead-up to Christmas this yr, when the crew rescued a miner who had turn out to be trapped below a big piece of rock particles.

Outback carpenter Yael Cheme Tumapang started working with the crew earlier than she was even sufficiently old to formally be part of.

“You get to be on this little household and also you get to know everyone and get shut, and it is cool,” Ms Cheme Tumapang stated.

A woman smiles while wearing orange protective clothing and a helmet standing in front of a truck
Yael Cheme Tumapang volunteers with the Coober Pedy mine rescue crew, run by the State Emergency Service.(ABC Information: Haidarr Jones)

She stated there was additionally a rush concerned with a rescue.

“It isn’t usually that you simply get down a shaft and it is simply so thrilling,” she stated.

Her supervisor, Mr Sheils, agreed.

“Your mind provides you all these good little endorphins, it makes all of it worthwhile.”

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