YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Russian Miners Found Alive

Eleven of the 13 trapped since Thursday are rescued. One is dead and another is missing.

October 29, 2003|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Rescuers who tunneled through 180 feet of solid rock broke through to the flooded Zapadnaya mine in southern Russia today and found 11 of the 13 miners trapped there alive.

The rescue brought euphoria to Russians, whose hopes had fallen in recent days as the effort to drill toward an air pocket where the men were trapped took longer than expected.

Rescuers were expected to bring the coal miners to the surface on stretchers this morning. One miner had died, another was missing and a third was in critical condition, officials said.

The crisis in the town of Novoshakhtinsk began Thursday when water from an underground lake flooded into the mine, trapping teams of workers more than 2,000 feet underground.

Thirty-three were brought to the surface Saturday, but the 13 remained missing, trapped as the water rose.

In a dramatic operation over the weekend, rescuers dumped rocks, refuse and even railway cars into the shaft to stem the flood of water into the mine. Oxygen was pumped in but there were fears that the water level was rising.

When rescuers broke through and entered the flooded mine overnight, they found writing on a tunnel wall, saying that the trapped miners had walked toward a ventilation shaft about a mile and a half from the rescue hole.

They were found near the ventilation shaft and were being led out early today.

Relatives of the missing men had held tearful prayer vigils at the mine entrance as teams worked around the clock to drill through from the neighboring Komsomolskaya mine.

The mine director was trapped with his men during his first day on the job. It was not immediately known whether he was among the survivors.

Russian television aired footage of the phalanx of ambulances and rescue vehicles at the entrance to the mine, as dozens of police, officials and rescuers milled around.

The mining industry in Russia and neighboring Ukraine is dangerous, with frequent explosions and accidents.

Even as most of the miners in Zapadnaya were found alive, there was news from eastern Russia that an explosion in the town of Partizansk had killed at least five miners. Seventy-one were in the mine at the time.

The Zapadnaya mine rescue contrasts with the failed rescue operation of the Kursk nuclear submarine in 2000, which tainted Vladimir V. Putin's early presidency after his failure to return from a holiday as rescuers struggled unsuccessfully to reach almost 120 trapped sailors.

It also contrasts with the operation at the House of Culture theater, where Chechen rescuers took the cast of the production and hundreds of audience members hostage. About 120 civilians were killed by the sleeping gas used by authorities in the rescue operation.

Los Angeles Times Articles