Dozens of people are trapped underground, at least 11 people have died, in an accident at a mine in Siberia, Russian officials said on Thursday.
At least 49 people were also injured in the incident, reportedly involving an explosion followed by a fire.
The Emergencies Ministry said that 237 miners had been brought to the surface and that rescue work for the 39 missing workers at the Listvyazhnaya coal mine in the Kuznetzk Basin was ongoing.
Russia’s state Tass news agency cited an unnamed emergency official as saying that coal dust had caught fire, causing smoke to fill the mine through the ventilation system.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had expressed his condolences to the families of those killed and hoped that those still missing could be saved, according to Interfax.
Rescuers die in search for miners
Later on Thursday, at least three rescuers died when they ran out of oxygen while attempting to retrieve those still stuck in the mine.
Teams of resucers were sent into the mine, but later recalled over the threat of further explosions. One team failed to respond, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry’s press service said.
Three bodies were later recovered, with sources telling Interfax that they had run out of oxygen in their tanks.
Hopes fade for those trapped
Meanwhile, fears for the missing miners are growing as their self-rescue units will have run out of oxygen by now.
“The missing miners could have run out of oxygen by as early as lunchtime. The self-rescue systems are designed for six hours, with non-intensive use a little longer. However, more than 12 hours have passed since the accident. There is still no communication with them,” a source told Interfax. They also noted that no voids with breathable air had yet been discovered in rescue efforts.
Further rescue attempts have been postponed to Friday due to a build-up of methane.
A criminal case has been opened.
Russia’s mining industry sees accidents fairly regularly, mostly as a result of poor safety standards and aging equipment.
An accident in 2010 at the largest Russian coal mine, the Raspadskaya mine in Siberia, killed 91 people and injured more than 100.
aw, tj/msh (AFP, Interfax, AP)