Noah Ogweno, 25, lay sandwiched in the tunnel as he struggled to free himself from the rubble in a collapsed gold mine in Kopuodho, Migori County.
He gasped for air as he desperately called for help from his colleagues who were trying to rescue him from the 45-foot tunnel on January 6.
On Sunday, he was pulled out alive after spending 96 hours in the collapsed mine.
He was rushed to Tabaka Mission Hospital in Kisii County, treated and discharged.
Despite his haggard look, Mr Ogweno was lucky to have escaped the ordeal without suffering serious injuries.
“For four days, I desperately clung to life hoping to emerge from the mine that had become a death trap for me. I was scared and didn’t know how the whole ordeal would end,” he said.
“At one point, I thought about what I would do if death finally came knocking but I kept praying and asked God to spare me.”
On the day the mine walls came tumbling down, Mr Ogweno had just descended into the tunnel to start working.
As he prepared himself for the work ahead, he was jolted by a loud rumble and soil started falling on him.
“In a split second, I found myself covered under rubble and could not move. I struggled to breathe. I knew I was staring at death if I didn’t act quickly. In a split second, I heaved myself from the rubble and crawled to a narrow dark tunnel.”
He decided to stay there, hoping his colleagues and the rescue teams would find him alive.
The misfortune struck shortly after Mr Ogweno had descended into the pit to start his shift.
Escape towards the exit
“I had dressed up in my mining attire and hurriedly got in. It was my turn to work in the tunnel,” he told the Nation at his home in North Kamagambo on Monday.
As the incident unfolded, Mr Ogweno frantically tried to escape towards the exit but the falling debris cut him off, leaving him buried in the soil.
“I shouted for help but nobody was in the vicinity,” he said.
For close to two hours he continued shouting for help, hoping his colleagues would come to his rescue but that did not happen.
At some point, a miner was lowered into the pit to find out what had happened.
When he descended into the mine, he found that their colleague was buried in the rubble.
“I was able to tell him that I had managed to crawl to a dark tunnel where I was sheltering. He alerted our other colleagues, who started working on a rescue plan,” Mr Ogweno explained.
The rescue teams had earlier hoped that they would manage to pull him from the rubble within hours of the incident but the situation was much more complicated.
“For the next four days, I kept updating the rescue teams on my condition as they struggled to reach me. I was hungry and thirsty and gasped for air in the tunnel which had little oxygen.”
On the fourth day, life was beginning to be squeezed out of him.
“I had grown weak after going without food and water for four days. When the excavators finally arrived, my hopes were renewed. I kept praying as the machines started scooping the soil and rocks out of the way.”
At 4pm on Sunday, the excavator managed to open up the tunnel. For the first time, he was able to breathe a whiff of fresh air, but he collapsed.
His elder brother, Duncan Onyango, thanked the county government for the quick response that saved his brother’s life.
“The news that our brother had been buried alive really shocked us. He is the first in our family to be involved in mining and we were really shocked by what had happened,” Mr Onyango said.
He described the rescue as a miracle.
Pulled out alive
“News of the rescue was too good to be true. As a family, we had kept praying for our brother and when he was pulled out alive, we knew God had answered our prayers.”
Kopuodho Gold Miners Association secretary Erick Ngwala said: “We had at first tried to manually move the rocks and scoop the soil but that failed. Although he was trapped in the mine, he was still able to communicate with us as the rescue mission continued.”
Three excavators were brought in on Friday last week and helped speed up the rescue operation.
“We started the rescue from a distance so as not to harm him. The mine was 45 feet deep and rescuers had to tread carefully. Our main worry was that one of us was trapped inside all that while. Even pastors from different churches joined us. Our main aim was to have him retrieved whether dead or alive,” he said.
Mr Ngwala appealed to the government to conduct a proper assessment at the sites and support artisanal miners to ensure they operate in a safe environment.
“We are struggling to make ends meet yet this is a very lucrative sector that needs to be regulated. The mining department should enact policies that will see all players safeguarded.”