Fifty-five bodies pulled from China coal mine in year’s worst accident

BEIJING, June 28, 2006 (AFP) – The bodies of 55 men have been pulled out of a coal mine that flooded more than a month ago, authorities said Wednesday, making it the worst reported mining disaster in China this year.

"After intensive rescue work… 55 bodies of the miners have been discovered. One person is still missing," the State Administration of Work Safety said in a short statement on its website.

Authorities had previously refused to confirm the deaths, despite no signs of life from the miners since the accident on May 18 at the Xinjing mine in China’s coal producing center of Datong city, Shanxi province.

The confirmation that 55 people had died, with the death toll likely to rise to 56, makes the accident the most deadly coal mining tragedy in China this year.

The previous most deadly reported accident occurred on April 29, when 32 people were killed after a gas explosion in a privately run coal mine in Shaanxi province.

China’s coal mines are regarded as the most dangerous in the world, with official figures recording nearly 6,000 workers killed last year.

Accidents occur almost daily. In the latest accident, at least 21 people were killed on Wednesday morning at a coal mine in Liaoning province’s Fuxin city.

In the May 18 accident that killed at least 55 people, the mine owners initially tried to cover it up by reporting only four men were trapped, according to earlier reports.

Managers at the mine fled after destroying crucial documents, while buses were hired to send relatives of the victims away from the mine so that they could not speak with authorities and the press.

Nineteen people have been detained over the accident, including senior local government officials who were in collusion with the mine management.

The state work safety administration earlier said the mine had been dug deeper than permitted and produced 10 times its licensed output, producing in one month the amount of coal it was licensed to produce in a year.

An initial investigation found the flooding occurred when workers accidentally dug into an adjacent, disused, water-filled shaft, causing their shaft to flood with 200,000 tonnes of water.