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The world's worst mining disasters

10 September 2012 Sarah Blackman




Explosions, strikes and collapses have caused some of the worst mining tragedies in recent years. From Pike River to Marikana, mining-technology.com lists the deadliest mining events of the decade.


The San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, is best known for the 2010 collapse which left 33 miners trapped

In the wake of two huge mining disasters, plans put forward by China to eliminate outdated production methods, shutdown illegal collieries and improve facilities at viable mines have never been more pressing.

"Thousands of miners die in accidents on site every year, especially in the process of coal and hard rock mining."

The government announced in May 2012 that it will shut down 625 coal mines with a total production capacity of 23.47 million tons by the end of the year, a move that could finally put an end to dangerous and exploitative conditions faced by miners in the country.

But the news comes too late for the victims of the Xiaojiawan mine disaster. On 29 August, a gas explosion at the facility, located in Sichuan province, killed 45 workers and injured 54 others.

Five days later, another 15 workers lost their lives in an explosion at the Gaokeng Coal Mine in Jiangxi province.

Thousands of miners die in accidents on site every year, especially in the process of coal and hard rock mining. Here, we list some of the biggest mining disasters of the last ten years.

Crandall Canyon, US

On 6 August 2007, the Crandall Canyon mine, an underground bituminous coal mine in Utah, collapsed. Six workers were killed in the accident and three rescuers lost their lives in a second cave-in just ten days later.

The shockwaves registered 3.9 to 4.0 by seismographic stations in Utah and Nevada, leading to an initial belief that the collapse had been caused by an earthquake.

Investigations later revealed, however, that the implosion was caused by shearing away at the huge coal columns that supported about 1,700 feet of mountain above.

Rescue operations were eventually called off and the bodies of the miners were never recovered.

Upper Big Branch, US

A coal dust explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 out of 30 on-site miners on 5 April, 2010. The accident was the worst the US mining industry had seen since 1970, when 38 workers were killed at two mines in Kentucky.

A final report from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in December 2011 concluded that safety violations contributed to the explosion. Massey Energy had apparently failed to properly maintain its ventilation systems, which allowed methane levels to increase to dangerous levels.

The administration issued 369 citations, assessing $10.8m in criminal penalties.

San Jose Mine, Chile

The San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, is best known for the 2010 collapse which left 33 miners trapped 2,297 feet underground for 69 days.

On 22 August, 17 days after the collapse, the miners were found alive by rescuers who drilled down 2,257ft to make contact with the workers.

A note from the miners indicated they were living in a makeshift refuge. Using a bulldozer, they created a canal of fresh water and used electricity from a truck engine to rig up lighting deep inside the copper-gold mine.

The miners were hoisted to safety via a rescue capsule on 13 October 2010.

A Chilean congressional commission found owners Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny responsible for the collapse. The mining company, San Esteban, is under bankruptcy protection and its assets have been sold off to help resolve debts and pay severance to the miners.

Pike River, New Zealand

A series of four explosions occurred at the Pike River mine, once the second largest hard coking coal export mine in New Zealand, between the 19 and 28 November 2010.

At the time of the first explosion, 31 miners and contractors were working on site. Two miners walked away from the incident and were treated with moderate injuries.

The remaining 16 miners and 13 contractors were believed to be at least 1,500 metres from the mine's entrance and after the second explosion on 24 November, the men were believed by police to be dead.

When rescuers drilled a borehole into the area where the miners were thought to be, a dangerous level of methane and carbon monoxide was detected, leaving the workers with little chance of survival.

In July 2011, the Australian newspaper ran an article that alleged that Pike River CEO Peter Whitthal had not ensured that the mine had installed appropriate safety measures.

Marikana Platinum Mine, South Africa

On 10 August, 2012, rock drill operators at the Marikana Platinum mine in the North West province of South Africa threw down their tools in protest about wages.

The strike spiralled into clashes between two rival unions - the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union - and led to the death of 35 workers and two police officers.

Four weeks later and only 4.2% of shift workers have returned to work and the value of Lonmin, the owner of the mine, has fallen by 30% in the past month.


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Crandall Canyon, United States of America

The coal mine is located in the north-west of Emery County, 35 miles south-east of Fairview and 15 miles west north-west of Huntington, just off Utah State Route 31 and surrounded by the Manti-LaSal National Forest.

Pike River Mine, New Zealand

It is located about 50km north-east of Greymouth in the west coast region of South Island.

Marikana Platinum Mine, South Africa

The Marikana mine is located in the North West Province of South Africa, approximately 8km east of the Kroondal mine.

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A strike at the Marikana Platinum mine led to 37 deaths.
The New Zealand flag flies at half mast to mark the official memorial service for the Pike River miners.
Rescue efforts in process at the San Jose mine.
Manuel González, the first rescuer, preparing to descend into the San José mine.