According to news reports from the Mexican newspaper, El Universal, the miners died instantly when an explosion elevated temperatures to more than 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 F). Mexican Labor Secretary Francisco Salazar told reporters that that the government will investigate the cause of the accident and the mine will remain temporarily shut down.
In addition, air-quality tests in a section of a Mexican coal mine where as many as 26 miners could have been working showed there was not enough oxygen in the area to sustain life. They also said they expect levels of harmful methane gas to be higher in deeper parts of the mine.
Officials from the Mexican government were initially optimistic of finding survivors, especially when rescue teams broke down barriers of debris in hopes of finding two miners, who were reportedly working nearby. Instead, they found high levels of methane gas. U.S. mine experts, according to media reports, confirmed the air quality tests conducted by Mexican officials.
The explosion blasted through the Pasta de Conchos mine located in the Mexican northern state of Coahuila, trapping 65 miners who were working inside. They were reportedly carrying 6 hours of oxygen with them.
One mine safety expert told OccupationalHazards.com, "They have been trapped for so long, there is not much of a chance of survival at this point," H.L. Boling from Boling and Associates said.
Boling points out that unless that the miners were able to escape the toxic gases by finding a pocket of breathable air, their chances of being found alive are slim. According to reports, fresh air was being pumped to an area of the mine that had been cleared with the hope rescuers could shed their heavy oxygen tanks and work faster.
Unsafe working conditions
Grupo Mexico SA, the owner of the mine, has said the blast was an accident and the mine where the explosion took place recently passed government inspections.
Reports from the National Miner's Union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la republica Mexicana) have said that the working conditions inside of the mines were dire. It has been reported that many of the miners were sent into dangerously unstable shafts without training or proper equipment.
Boling said he is not surprised.
"It always has been common knowledge that mines in Mexico are not as safe as the mines in the United States," he said. Boling added that Grupo Mexico is responsible in some cases, but also attributes downgrades in safety to the country's hard economic times.
"Safety, however, does not have a price," he said.