Rescuers on Monday desperately tried to contact eight miners missing in a flooded Siberian diamond mine as investigators opened a probe into suspected violations of safety rules.
The accident on Friday at the mine in the Sakha region some 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) east of Moscow saw water flood in from a disused crater.
Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, said Monday it had opened a criminal case over suspected breaches of safety procedures at the mine, owned by the country’s largest diamond producer Alrosa, punishable by up to three years in jail.
Rescuers helped an injured miner escape on Saturday, bringing the total who have been evacuated to 143. He was hospitalised in a serious condition with hypothermia.
Specialised climbers were working on Monday to try to establish communications with the section where the remaining eight men are believed to be trapped by sending a signal through a drainage pipe, Alrosa said in a statement.
The company’s president Sergei Ivanov said Sunday that rescuers were trying to reach a location where the miners may be trapped, but the company denied a report that their exact whereabouts had been identified.
Specialist rescuers were also working inside the mine to clear tunnels blocked by mud from the flooding and rock fragments from the mining process, Alrosa said.
The emergency situations ministry said rescuers had already explored along tunnels stretching almost seven kilometres and had cleared 200 metres of blocked tunnels.
The company was also working to set up extra pumps to remove water from the huge crater that is leaking into the underground mine shafts, to ensure the rescuers’ safety.
Relatives of the men still inside in the mine flew into the town of Mirny where the mine is located, Alrosa said, and were set to meet the company’s leadership and rescuers.
Alrosa made a net profit of 22.7 billion rubles ($376.37 million) in the first quarter of 2017.
The Mir mine, inaugurated in 2009, produces a million tonnes of diamond ore per year.
Last year it produced 3.19 million carats of diamonds, according to the company’s website.
The mine along with several others in the same area made up 21 percent of Alrosa’s production last year.
Up to 2001, Alrosa used opencast mining at the Mir site, which has been used for diamond production since 1955.
The opencast pit is a vast crater with a diameter of over a kilometre, making it one of the largest man-made holes on Earth. (France24)