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Two separate coal mine explosions in a week kill 11 people in Poland, 11 more remain missing

25 April 2022

Two methane explosions in the span of a week have killed a total of 11 people at two mines in southern Poland. The first incident killed five people, injured 21 and left seven people trapped underground. A second incident at a separate mine then occurred on April 23, killing six people and leaving several missing. Rescue efforts at both mines, which are owned by mining company JSW, are continuing.

The Pniówek mine - Image: JSW
The Pniówek mine - Image: JSW

In a statement, JSW said that the first incident on April 20 in the Pniówek mine in Pawlowice was a methane explosion that occurred at a depth of 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) at 00:15 local time. A total of 42 workers were in the affected area at the time of the incident with 21 being injured and taken to hospital. Emergency services and officials, including the JSW Management Board and the District and State Mining Authority, were called to the scene and 13 rescue teams were deployed.

Officials said that two people had died at the scene while two of the injured had later died in hospital. The death toll rose to five after rescue workers discovered the body of a trapped miner during a search of the mine, however seven miners remained missing. Of the injured, nine people were in severe conditions and taken to a burn ward.

JSW said that high levels of gas within the mine meant rescue operations needed to stop several times and made rescue efforts difficult. Rescue teams worked through the night searching the mine and building a ventilation system in order to pump clean air into the mine.

“Without pumping in air, it would be impossible for rescue workers to enter [the mine]. We had to retract people and put in place a separate ventilation system”, said Tomasz Cudny, CEO of JSW. He added: "The rescue worker crews are trying to retrieve people with whom we do not currently have any contact. At this time, their safety is of the utmost importance to us."

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda visited the Pniówek mine on April 21 and met with the JSW Management Board, the mine’s management team and mine rescue workers. Later that day, more explosions occurred while rescuers worked to extend the ventilation system deeper into the mine. The explosions injured 10 rescue workers who were all taken to nearby hospitals.

The decision was then taken by the crisis management team to limit rescue efforts to isolating the area of the mine where the initial explosion occurred. In its last update on April 23, JSW said that rescuers were working on building two explosion-proof dams in order to isolate dangerous areas of the mine from safe areas, however seven miners remained missing.

While rescue efforts were being conducted at the Pniówek mine, a separate incident occurred at the Borynia-Zofiowka mine in southern Poland which is also owned by JSW. The incident happened at a depth of 900 metres at 03:40 local time on April 23. JSW said that 42 of the 52 miners who were in the area of the explosion managed to exit the mine, however 10 were missing.

A rescue operation focused on re-establishing ventilation, airing out the mine, and reaching the missing miners began shortly after the miners alerted authorities to the incident. After several hours, rescue workers managed to reach four of the missing miners however they were declared dead at the scene. JSW said that high methane concentrations and high temperatures were slowing down rescue operations.

On April 25, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference that the death toll at the Borynia-Zofiowka mine had risen to six after two more bodies were found. Morawiecki said that the government would investigate safety standards at both the Borynia-Zofiowka and Pniówek mines. He said that the investigation would help uncover whether the incidents were mere coincidences or whether there was any negligence.

As of April 25, rescue efforts at both mines continue.

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