Russian officials said Thursday’s devastating explosion at a Siberian coal mine killed 52 miners and rescue workers some 820 feet below.
A methane gas explosion and fire filled the mine with toxic fumes, rescuers found 14 bodies, but were then forced to halt the search for 38 others due to a build-up of methane and carbon monoxide gas from the fire. Another 239 people were rescued.
The state TAS and RIA-Novosti news agencies, citing emergency officials, said there was no chance of finding any survivors at the Listvyaznaya mine in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia.
Interfax news agency cited a representative of the regional administration, who put the death toll in Thursday’s crash at 52 and said he died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
It was the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire at the Raspadskaya mine in the same Kemerovo region killed 91 people.
There were a total of 285 people in the Listvyazhnaya mine early Thursday, when the explosion caused smoke that quickly filled the mine through the ventilation system. Rescuers brought 239 miners to the surface, 49 of whom were injured.
News reports said that later in the day, six rescuers also died while searching for others trapped in a remote part of the mine.
Regional officials declared three days of mourning.
Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Dmitry Demshin told reporters that the fire was most likely triggered by a methane explosion caused by a spark.
Surviving miners described their tremors as they reached the surface.
One of the rescued miners, Sergei Golubin, said in comments on television, “Impact. Wind. Dust. And then, we smelled the gas and we began to pass out as much as we could.” “At first we didn’t even know what happened and inhaled some gas.”
Another miner, Rustam Chebelkov, recalled the dramatic moment when he was rescued along with his comrades as chaos surrounded the mine.
“I was crawling and then I thought they were holding me,” he said. “I reached out to them, they could not see me, visibility was poor. They grabbed me and dragged me out, if not for them, we would die.”
Eruptions of methane released from coal beds during mining are rare, but they cause the most deaths in the coal mining industry.
Interfax news agency reported that miners normally have up to six hours of oxygen supply which can only be extended for a few more hours.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into the fires over safety violations that led to the deaths. It said the mine director and two senior managers have been detained.
President Vladimir Putin expressed condolences to the families of the dead and ordered the government to provide all possible assistance to the injured.
Thursday’s fire was not the first fatal accident at the Listvyazhnaya mine. In 2004, 13 miners were killed in a methane explosion.
In 2007, a methane explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine in the Kemerovo region killed 110 miners in the deadliest mine accident since Soviet times.
In 2016, 36 miners were killed in a series of methane explosions at a coal mine in Russia’s far north. In the wake of the incident, officials analyzed the safety of 58 coal mines in the country and declared 20 or 34% of them potentially unsafe.
According to media reports, the Listvyaznaya mine was not among them at that time.
Russia’s state technology and ecology watchdog, Rostekhnadzor, inspected the mine in April and recorded 139 violations, including fire safety regulations.