Hope fades for 12 missing coal miners in Ukraine

Tue Jun 10, 2008 10:36am BST

(refiles to insert dropped words in paragraph 4)

By Lina Kushch

YENAKIYEVO, Ukraine, June 10 (Reuters) - Rescuers have little chance of finding alive 12 miners missing after a gas explosion at a Ukrainian colliery, officials said on Tuesday.

Twenty-four men were brought to the surface on Monday -- more than 24 hours after the blast shattered installations and blocked shafts at the Karl Marx pit in the Donbass coalfield. One man was found dead and four were seriously hurt with burns.

Gas explosions are a frequent occurrence in Ukraine's outdated, unprofitable mines. Like many pits, the Karl Marx mine in Yenakiyevo, northeast of the regional centre Donetsk, dated from the late 19th century with deposits hard to reach at a depth of 1 km or more.

First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Turchynov, the most senior government official at the accident site, said many of the missing men had borne the brunt of Sunday's blast.

"I do not want to make any predictions, but I would say that the chances are minimal. But there always is hope," Turchynov told reporters.

Nine of the men, he said, were on their way to the surface in an elevator when the blast hit them full force at a depth of 200 metres, sending the cage cascading back down the shaft.

The other three, he said, had been about 1,000 metres below ground, where the explosion occurred after levels of methane had shot up beyond dangerous levels. All of them were threatened by rising water which teams were unable to pump out of the mine.

President Viktor Yushchenko, long at odds with his on-again, off-again ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said ministers had failed the industry, making mining a deadly profession.

The mine was one of 23 where work had been suspended to check on documented safety violations.

Eleven miners were killed in the last explosion in the Donbass coalfield two weeks ago. Three blasts at the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk late last year killed 106 men in two weeks. (Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)