CITLUK, Serbia (AP) — An accident Friday in a coal mine in central Serbia killed eight miners and wounded 18 others, authorities said, adding that the workers apparently suffocated from too much methane gas.
The accident in the Soko coal mine, located 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Belgrade, the capital, occurred shortly after 4 a.m. Officials said an investigation was underway to determine exactly what happened.
“Inspectors, police and all relevant authorities are at the scene, doing what is necessary to determine the cause of this tragedy,” said the Mining and Energy Minister Zorana Mihajlovic.
The state RTS television and other local media initially reported that part of the pit collapsed, releasing the methane gas inside and trapping the miners. But MIhajlovic, who visited the site Friday, denied reports of an explosion.
“There was no explosion or anything, but the rise in methane was such that they suffocated,” said Mihajlovic, expressing condolences to the families of the victims and promising state help.
The Soko mine has had several serious accidents since it started operating in the early 1900s, including one in 1998 that killed 29 miners.
Drago Milinkovic, the Soko coal mine manager, said initial information suggested there was a “sudden release of methane” gas into the mining area.
“Soko coal mine is a dangerous coal mine, dangerous from the aspect of methane,” he said. "Security measures are at the highest level in the coal mine, but this time there was a sudden release of methane and simply the monitoring and the equipment that were in place did not help.”
Doctors in nearby Aleksinac, where injured miners were brought, said their injuries mostly are not serious. Town authorities declared a day of mourning to be held Saturday.
Near the mine, stunned locals stood in silence. One miner who identified himself only by his first name, Milan, said he usually worked in the overnight shift.
“I changed shifts because of my family," he said. “It could have been me.”
This story corrects the minister's last name to Mihajlovic.