Most Russian Miners Saved

One of eleven rescued miners waves outside the Zapadnaya mine in Novoshakhtinsk, southern Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2003. Eleven of 13 coal miners who were trapped in a deep shaft in southern Russia for six days were found alive Wednesday. One of the trapped miners died underground and one remained missing.
AP
Eleven of 13 coal miners who were trapped in a deep shaft in southern Russia for six days emerged alive Wednesday after rescuers had worked around the clock to blast a tunnel through solid rock. One of the trapped miners died underground and one remained missing, emergency officials said.

Rescuers reached the men on Wednesday morning after drillers punched through to the pit face where the miners had sought refuge following a flood. Entering the chamber, the rescuers found a note scrawled on a ventilation pipe, showing in which direction the miners had moved, NTV television reported.

"The guys looked fine for people who have been trapped in a mine for six days. They came out themselves," said Alexander Smetalin, one of the rescuers. "They were found in the northern part of the mine. They were lying there all together."

Smetalin said that the miners had climbed up an incline in the shaft in the Zapadnaya mine that kept them above the level of the icy water. The missing miner had apparently left the others in hopes of finding a way out, and rescuers were continuing to search for him, rescue officials said.

In spite of their ordeal, most of the miners walked out of the shaft on their own after being carried or led about 1.5 miles underground, emergency officials said. Black dust coated their faces and thick blankets were draped over their shoulders.

As they emerged from the shaft, relatives who had kept vigil outside the mine cried out their names. A crowd of doctors, policemen and rescue workers surrounded the men as they were hustled into waiting ambulances, and some reached out to pat the miners on the back in a restrained show of relief.

The rescued miners' eyes looked blank; none whose faces were captured by waiting television cameras and photographers cracked a smile.

The last live miner was carried out of the shaft on a stretcher shortly after noon. Rescue workers said he was apparently suffering from exposure but that he was conscious and responsive.

The Interfax news agency said that the director of the mine, Vasily Avdeyev, who was among those trapped, had survived.

Rescuers carried out the body of the dead miner, Sergei Voytinok, last. Russian Orthodox priests had accompanied the body on the final leg of the journey to the surface, reciting prayers for the dead as the miners' elevator rose.

As the rescue operation unfolded in southern Russia early Wednesday, five miners were killed in a mine explosion in the Primorye region of the Russian Far East. Sixty-six other miners were rescued after the blast in the town of Partizansk, said Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry. The blast was due to a build-up of methane and was blamed on lax safety practices, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

After learning of the rescue and the Far East blast, President Vladimir Putin told a Kremlin meeting that to his regret, mine accidents in Russia "were taking on a systematic character."

The miners who were rescued Wednesday were among 71 men working some 2,625 feet below ground on Thursday when water from a subterranean lake leaked into a shaft above them, blocking their way to the surface. Twenty-five managed to escape, and 33 other miners who had been trapped by the flood were rescued Saturday.

Emergency workers had blasted and drilled through solid rock from an adjacent mine to reach the miners. In the meantime, hundreds of tons of rock, soil and reinforced concrete pillars had been dumped into the shaft to staunch the flood.

According to ITAR-Tass, it was the second such accident at the southern Russian mine this year. It said water flooded the mine in February, but there were no people inside at the time.

Accidents are common in the Russian coal industry, and miners stage frequent protests over wage delays and declining safety standards. According to the Independent Coal Miners' Union, 68 miners were killed on the job last year and 98 in 2001.

Worldwide, mining continues to be a hazardous business. Work-related injuries killed 121 miners in the U.S. last year; of that number, 25 were coal miners. In China, some 6,246 people died in mine accidents last year.