Rescuers on Saturday found the body of the last missing miner at a coal mine in northern Turkey, bringing the death toll to 41 from a methane blast that also injured 28, Agence France-Presse reported.
The blast ripped through the mine near the small coal town of Amasra on Turkey’s Black Sea coast shortly before sunset on Friday.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived at the site Saturday afternoon to announce the last missing person had been found dead.
“Our priority was to find the miners in the gallery. We finally reached the last one. He also died, bringing the number of deaths to 41,” Erdoğan said, ending rescue operations after more than 20 hours.
He spoke in front of miners who escaped unharmed and pledged a full inquiry with the state taking care of victims’ families.
“How did this explosion happen and who is responsible — all that will be decided by an administrative and legal inquiry that has already started,” the president promised.
Erdoğan went on to attend funerals in nearby villages, including Makaraci, which lost four men.
Opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also visited some of the villages.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu had reported that 58 miners had survived the blast, “either by themselves or thanks to rescuers” and 28 had been injured.
The first injury-free survivors to reach the surface had insisted on joining the rescue efforts which brought in other miners from across the region.
Adem Usluoğlu was among the first of those volunteers to arrive.
“Some have been burnt alive by the force of the explosion,” he told AFP. “My heart is terribly heavy.”
Anxious crowds — some with tears in their eyes — had congregated Friday near the entrance to the pit and stayed all night hoping for news of their friends and loved ones.
One woman in shock had to be evacuated, others prayed at the barriers that closed off the site.
“There are no rooms to survive in, no pockets for shelter down the mine,” said Iliyas Borekci, deputy director of an adjacent mine that sent in three rescue teams.
“The only chance of survival is to get out immediately,” he told AFP.
Amasra mayor Recai Çakır said many of those who survived had suffered “serious injuries”.
Turkey’s Maden İş mining workers’ union attributed the blast to a build-up of methane gas.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was among the political leaders to react to the disaster saying he was “saddened”, despite the high tensions with Turkey.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian foe Volodymyr Zelensky also presented their condolences on Twitter, as did European Council President Charles Michel.
Television footage showed paramedics giving oxygen to the miners who had climbed out, then rushing them to the nearest hospitals.
The local governor said a team of more than 70 rescuers had managed to reach a point in the pit some 250 meters below.
Turkey’s AFAD disaster management service announced the initial spark that caused the blast appeared to have come from a malfunctioning transformer.
It later withdrew that report and said methane gas had ignited for “unknown reasons”.
The local public prosecutor’s office said it was treating the incident as an accident and launching a formal investigation.
Work accidents are common in Turkey where economic development can ride roughshod over safety concerns, particularly in the construction and mining industries.
Turkey suffered its deadliest coal mining disaster in 2014 when 301 workers died in a blast and ensuing fire that brought down a mining shaft in the western town of Soma.
Five mine managers were found guilty of negligence and handed long jail terms up to 22 years.