Eleven people have been killed and at least 75 others are injured after an elevator at a mine in South Africa broke and plunged down hundreds of feet, the mine operator said Tuesday.

The incident occurred on Monday afternoon at a platinum mine in Rustenburg, which is around 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg, as workers were nearing the end of their shift.

The lift was bringing workers to the surface when it unexpectedly dropped 655 feet down a shaft, according to Impala Platinum Holdings (Implats), the international mine operator of the site. 

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A general view of a shaft at Impala Platinum mine near Rustenburg

A general view of the shaft at Impala Platinum mine near Rustenburg on Tuesday after 11 miners died and another 75 were injured. A lift was bringing workers to the surface when it unexpectedly dropped 655 feet down a shaft. (Phil Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

A spokesperson for the mining firm said the elevator malfunctioned while its rope was still attached to the winding mechanism, dropping the victims downward until it came to a sudden stop, when an emergency brake was activated. 

"This is the darkest day in the history of Implats," said Nico Muller, the company’s chief executive.

Muller said an investigation has already begun into what exactly caused the elevator to drop, and the operator had suspended all operations on Tuesday.

"As a mining company, we take full responsibility. This is our business, our employees, our family," Muller said at a press conference. 

"And we will endeavor to be as transparent to all stakeholders involved including the media, in giving full disclosure as we navigate through this absolute horrific human tragedy."

He said safety and health are an "absolute cornerstone" of the company’s business.

Impala Platinum CEO Nico Muller, left, and South African Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, right, speak during a press conference near Rustenburg

Impala Platinum CEO Nico Muller, left, and South African Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe speak during a press conference near Rustenburg, South Africa, on Nov. 28, 2023. (Phil Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

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"We do not believe in producing a single ounce if it cannot be produced safely. We will make sure that we don’t leave a single stone unturned to find out what the cause is and prevent reoccurrence."

He said the company is offering ongoing support to the families and colleagues of those who died.

"We also hold our injured colleagues in our thoughts at this incredibly difficult time," he said.

Impala Platinum mine security stand at the entrance to shaft 11 near Rustenburg

Eleven people died and 75 others were injured in a mining accident in South Africa on Monday when an elevator broke and plunged down hundreds of feet. (Phil Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

Johan Theron, spokesperson for Implats, said that some of the survivors had sustained very serious injuries and were being treated in the hospital.

He said the accident was "highly unusual."

South Africa is the world’s largest producer of platinum, a very heavy, precious, silver-white metal. It is used extensively for jewelry, although it is mainly used in catalytic converters for cars, trucks and buses. 

A view of a mine where 11 people died during an accident

A general view of the 11 shaft at Impala Platinum mine near Rustenburg on Nov. 28, 2023. Eleven miners died and another 75 were injured in South Africa after an elevator carrying workers back up to the surface. (Phil Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

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In May, a South African gold mine collapsed during a gas explosion, which was suspected to have caused the deaths of 17 workers.

South Africa had 49 fatalities from all mining accidents in 2022, a decrease from 74 the year before. 

Deaths from South African mining accidents have steadily decreased in the last two decades from nearly 300 in 2000, according to South African government figures.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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