Any hopes for survivors of a deadly mine explosion in southern Poland vanished yesterday after rescuers recovered the bodies of all 17 men who had been missing, bringing the final death toll to 23.
The men were killed by Tuesday's explosion more than a kilometer below the surface at the Halemba mine in southern Poland.
"This brings to an end this very sad day," said Zbigniew Madej, spokesman for the state-run Coal Co, at the scene. "Nobody has a sense of relief, but rather a great weight on their heart."
Six of the bodies were recovered shortly after the explosion and the remaining ones were located after rescue efforts resumed in the night, Madej said.
A miner who operates one of the elevators in the complex said yesterday morning after finishing his overnight shift that he had seen some of the bodies brought to the surface.
"I saw the bodies being loaded and rescuers coming and going," said Dariusz Kesik, 35. "The bodies were in bags, just lying there. It was not a good smell."
The search had to be put on hold on Wednesday when teams encountered high concentrations of gas that they feared could cause a second explosion.
It resumed shortly before midnight and the rescue teams found the bodies after digging through hundreds of meters of rubble for more than three hours, Madej said.
In addition to bringing down the rubble, the methane gas explosion would have produced temperatures of some 1,000?C, Madej said.
"Rescuers were working in extremely difficult conditions," said Zbigniew Goldstein, a main adviser to a mine rescue center based in nearby Bytom. "We had methane, we had poisonous gases, high temperatures, high humidity, water threats, structural changes after the explosion. Everything that can happen down there."
It may take some time to determine whether the miners were killed in the initial blast, by the cave-ins, or whether they died afterward, rescue officials said.
President Lech Kaczynski, who met with grieving family members on Wednesday, has pledged a full investigation. The government has also promised financial assistance for the bereaved.