Six León miners died of asphyxiation, autopsies confirm

Friends and relatives await release of bodies as Castilla y León region calls three days of mourning

Friends and relatives mourn at the Pozo Emilio del Valle facility.
Friends and relatives mourn at the Pozo Emilio del Valle facility. J.Casares (EFE)

The regional High Court of Castilla y León has issued a preliminary report on the autopsies performed on the six miners who lost their lives in the Pozo Emilio del Valle facility on Monday. The León Institute of Forensic Medicine stated that the probable cause of death was asphyxiation due to a lack of oxygen. The miners had encountered a pocket of methane gas within the complex.

The investigating judge is currently preparing the paperwork to allow the bodies to be released to the miners’ families, with funerals expected to take place on Wednesday.

The deceased have been named as Manuel Moure, Orlando González, José Luis Aria, Roberto Álvarez, Juan Carlos Pérez and José Antonio Blanco. All were under 45 years of age but veterans at the mine, the shortest-serving member of the team having started work there in 1998.

Manuel Moure had returned to work recently after paternity leave following the birth of his daughter. He was 39 and had been married for two years. José Luis Arias, 45, was married with two children and had only ten months to go until he would have qualified for early retirement. His father, also a miner, was killed by a methane gas leak. Most of the deceased were the sons of miners.

Manuel Moure had returned to work recently after paternity leave

Of the five workers taken to hospital after the incident, four are said to be recuperating favorably and the fifth, who was yesterday in a serious condition, has been stabilized.

Friends and relatives of the miners on Tuesday observed the first of three official days of mourning called by the regional government of Castilla y León “as a testament to the loss of life in the serious mining accident.” Some of them spoke to this newspaper to detail the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

“We were in the gallery alongside, about 500 meters from the seventh level,” said a miner present at the time of the accident, who preferred not to give his name. “At about 1.30pm we heard the alarm on the telephone. Quick, everyone to the seventh! We dropped everything and went there as quickly as we could. There were bodies on the floor. A colleague and I got there first and the others came quickly behind. There were a lot of people unconscious on the floor. We managed to resuscitate one and got him out of there. We tried to do the same with another but he was already dead.”

Activity at the mine started up again in June after a temporary shutdown due to financial problems. “Things had been much better. We had been stuck at home for weeks with nothing to do, waiting to come back to work,” said an employee.

We had been stuck at home for weeks with nothing to do, waiting to come back to work"

Another miner present told of how those that arrived at the scene dragged their comrades to the surface up ladders and through galleries measuring just a meter-and-a-half wide and little more in height. “When we got to the surface we saw the company doctor and then the ambulances arrived. Some people were resuscitated, but others weren’t.”

Miners talk about firedamp – gas that forms in coal mines and can explode when it comes into contact with air – as a routine occupational hazard. They know that it can appear, suddenly and without warning, and can be fatal. Methane gas is odorless and can suck the air out of an enclosed space. Miners are issued with self-contained self-rescue devices (SCSR), portable units carrying about up to an hours’ worth of oxygen for emergency situations. But the Pozo Emilio del Valle miners did not have time to put them on.

“The effect of firedamp is immediate,” said a miner with more than 20 years of experience. “Two of the men who were behind us on the ramp to level seven were knocked out in five seconds. They hadn’t activated their SCSRs.”

Many of the local residents who are connected to the mine speak of it as one of the most respected in terms of security and safety measures. “It is an exemplary mine but, however much security you have, a mine is always a mine,” concluded one.

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