Longyearbyen, Norway; 18 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - A powerful coal mine explosion early today killed 26 Russian and Ukranian miners working on the Norwegian Svalbard Islands. Rescuers pulled 33 survivors from the mine.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately known. Disaster relief officials in Moscow said they suspected methane gas had ignited.
Itar-tass later today said a Russian government commission had been set up to investigate the mine explosion. Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Aleksandr Yevtushenko said the commission, as well as a Russian rescue team, will leave tomorrow morning for Norway.
The victims were working in a mine near the Russian settlement of Barentsburg, about 50 kilometers west of Longyearbyen, the district capital of the Svalbard Islands. The Svalbards, to the north of Norway and above the Arctic Circle, have several Russian coal-mining settlements allowed under a 1920 treaty.
Last September, 141 people died when a plane carrying miners from the same company and their families crashed into a mountain on the islands.