An accident at a coal mine in central Serbia on Friday killed eight miners and injured 18 others, authorities said, adding that workers had apparently suffocated from too much methane gas.
The accident at the Soko coal mine, located 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of the capital Belgrade, happened shortly after 4 a.m. Officials said an investigation was underway to determine exactly what happened.
“Inspectors, police and all relevant authorities are on the scene, doing what is necessary to determine the cause of this tragedy,” said Minister of Mines and Energy Zorana Mihajlovic.
Public television RTS and other local media first reported that part of the pit had collapsed, releasing methane gas inside and trapping the miners. But MIhajlovic, who visited the site on Friday, denied reports of an explosion.
“There was no explosion or anything, but the increase in methane was such that they were suffocated,” Mihajlovic said, expressing his condolences to the families of the victims and pledging help from the state.
The Soko mine has experienced several serious accidents since its commissioning in the early 1900s, including one in 1998 that killed 29 miners.
Drago Milinkovic, the manager of the Soko coal mine, said early reports suggested there was a “sudden release of methane” in the mining area.
“The Soko coal mine is a dangerous coal mine, dangerous from a methane perspective,” he said. “Safety measures are at the highest level in the coal mine, but this time there was a sudden release of methane and just the monitoring and equipment that was in place didn’t help.”
Doctors in nearby Aleksinac, where injured miners were taken, said their injuries were generally not serious. Municipal authorities have decreed that a day of mourning will take place on Saturday.
Near the mine, the stunned inhabitants stood in silence. A miner who only identified himself by his first name, Milan, said he usually worked the night shift.
“I changed teams because of my family,” he said. “It could have been me.”
This story corrects the minister’s last name to Mihajlovic.