ANKARA, Turkey – A methane gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in western Turkey, killing 17 miners, a top official said from the scene Friday.
"There were 57 people in the mine, 35 of them survived unharmed, five others were injured," Energy Minister Hilmi Guler said at the site. "Unfortunately, we've lost 17 people."
Turkey's Anatolia news agency quoted Erhan Ortakoylu, the owner of the private coal mine, as saying the explosion trapped the miners 500 feet below the surface. A military helicopter ferried workers from nearby mines to help the rescue effort. Some had to be hospitalized from breathing methane gas.
Accidents are not uncommon in Turkish mines due to safety violations, outdated equipment and high concentrations of methane gas.
Last June, six miners died of methane gas poisoning when a shaft collapsed in a coal mine near the Black Sea port of Zonguldak. A methane gas explosion in April 2005 killed 18 people at another coal mine in the town of Gediz in western Kutahya province.
In Turkey's worst mining disaster, a gas explosion killed 270 workers near Zonguldak in 1992.