Dar es Salaam (AFP) - Five Tanzanian gold miners have been rescued after spending 41 days trapped deep underground eating cockroaches and frogs to survive, the mining ministry and survivors said Tuesday.
The miners were among a group of around 20 that were in a pit when a shaft they were working on collapsed on October 5.
While 14 escaped as the shaft collapsed, six were trapped. One of the miners died during the more than month-long incarceration underground.
The remaining five were rescued on Sunday and are reportedly in a serious condition in hospital.
"The miners were very weak," Minister of Energy and Mines spokeswoman Badra Masoud said, adding they had been trapped some 100 metres (300 feet) underground.
Survivors have described the horror of surviving in the darkness for over a month so deep underground, sheltering in a chamber where they had stored their tools, eating insects and sipping foul and muddy water to survive.
"We were around 20 in the pit that collapsed, some of our colleagues made it out, but six remained trapped underground," survivor Chacha Wambura told state-owned television late Monday.
"We survived by eating cockroaches, frogs and other insects as well as drinking dirty water that seeped in from above."
The local miners were digging for gold in the northwestern Shinyanga region, some 900 kilometres (500 miles) west of the economic capital Dar es Salaam, when the shaft collapsed behind them.
- 'A miracle' -
Initially they had the light from their helmet lamps as well as from mobile phones, but they soon ran out.
"Batteries of the torches and flashlights ran out and we ended up in a cave that we earlier used as a store for our tools," Wambura said.
Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen said the mining ministry described the rescue as "a miracle" while local officials were initially in disbelief the miners could have been freed safely after so long underground.
Local police commander Justus Kamugisha told AFP that the miners were all believed to have died in the collapse, but that other miners crawling down a separate shaft were startled to hear voices coming from the darkness.
"They heard voices of people calling out for help," Kamugisha told AFP.
"The men left the mines as they thought the voices were evil spirits, but they reported it to the local officials, and they remembered the miners who had been trapped some days earlier."
Rescue efforts were launched on Saturday, finally freeing the five still alive the following day.
"We are still trying to locate the body of the dead miner, who is said to have died 15 days before the rescue operations," Kamugisha added.
Tanzania is Africa's fourth largest gold producer, and the precious metal is one of the top foreign exchange earners for the country.
Collapse of artisanal, or small-scale independent, mines are frequent, with miners often using basic tools and with little serious ability to shore up and secure the deep and narrow shafts they dig.