All 72 Canadian miners trapped by blaze rescued


Workers who were trapped underground for nearly a day leave the K2 Potash Mine near Esterhazy, central Canada, on Monday.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 30, 2006 at 11:22 p.m.

Rescuers retrieved all 72 central Canadian potash miners who were trapped underground by a fire and survived until Monday by using oxygen, food and water stored in subterranean emergency chambers.

The rescued miners were all in good health.

They were trapped early Sunday when a fire started in polyethylene piping more than a half-mile underground, filling the tunnels with toxic smoke and prompting the miners to take refuge in the sealed emergency rooms.

Thirty-two miners were brought to the surface at about 3:30 a.m., said Mosaic Co., which owns the mine. Another 35 emerged a few hours later, followed by the remaining five. No serious injuries were reported.

"They are glad to be on the surface," said Brian Hagan, director of health and safety for Dynatech Corp., the contractor that employed some of the miners. "They protected themselves and that is what they are trained to do."

Mosaic spokesman Marshall Hamilton said it was not clear how the fire started. The miners reported smoke and quickly headed for the refuge rooms, which can be as large as 50 feet by 150 feet and have an internal supply of oxygen that lasts up to 36 hours, along with food, water, chairs and beds.

Within two hours, rescue teams were mobilized, each going into the mine for a few hours at a time.

"It was hot, dusty, but our training came through," said Rob Dyck, a member of the rescue team. "We've been in smoke before, but probably nothing this complicated."

A rescue team reached one of the rooms late Sunday, after the mining company was unable to establish a radio link with the 30 miners in that room for 18 hours.

They made sure everyone was safe, and then closed them back inside until the air inside the mine could be cleared of toxic gases, Hamilton said.

The other 42 miners were separated into two groups in other safe rooms, and were in phone contact with rescuers.

"A lot of them said they had a good sleep down there in the refuge station," Dyck said. "They were pretty calm. They had water, they had food, they had all the stuff that they needed."

The company said the safe rescue was due to the extensive training of its workers and the support of the rural community.

"I'm almost getting choked up thinking about how well this team worked together," Hamilton said. "We live in rural Saskatchewan and we band together."

The mine, which was Saskatchewan's first potash operation when it opened in 1962, is located about 125 miles northeast of Regina. Potash is a pinkish-gray mineral used in the production of agricultural fertilizer.

Earlier this month, 14 miners died in two separate tragedies at mines in West Virginia. Two men died in a belt-line fire Jan. 21 at a mine in Melville, nearly three weeks after 12 men died after an explosion near Tallmansville.

China has the world's deadliest mining industry and reports disasters regularly. The Beijing government has launched a series of safety campaigns in recent years in an attempt to rein in accidents that kill more than 5,000 Chinese coal miners annually, but death tolls are largely unchanged.

Earlier this month, China said it was closing 5,290 coal mines as part of a safety crackdown.

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