Miners forced down blazing pit 'to secure bonuses for bosses'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2004, 12:00am

Senior managers of the Chenjia-shan coal mine forced workers to descend into the blazing mine in the week before Sunday's explosion because they wanted to get a 400,000 yuan bonus each for exceeding their production target, relatives of the trapped miners said yesterday.

Anger and anxiety continued to mount outside the mine as rescuers pulled a further 38 bodies to the surface, bringing the total official death toll from the blast to 63.

More than 100 trapped miners are still missing in what could be the worst coal mine accident on the mainland in recent years. There is little hope any survivors will be found.

Zhang Xiumei, the wife of a missing miner, told the Chongqing Morning Post the mine director was only interested in profits and neglected the safety of workers.

'They knew about the fire on November 23 but did not stop production. They forced workers to go underground after putting out part of the fire, but some layers of coal were still burning,' she said. 'My husband told me about it and said the heads of the mine did not care whether the workers lived or died.

'They only wanted their 400,000 yuan per-person bonus for exceeding production targets,' she added, pointing the blame at mine director Liu Shuangming and his deputy, Zheng Fumin.

According to the Tongchuan mine bureau, the Chenjia-shan coal mine was expected to produce 1.8 million tonnes of coal this year. If it reached 2.2 million tonnes, the director and the vice-director would be rewarded with 400,000 yuan each.

The mine achieved the 1.8 million-tonne target by October, and one worker told the newspaper that management bonuses would be slashed if production was suspended as a result of the blaze.

Rescuers continued their grim search yesterday.

Shaanxi coal industry department director Huo Shichang told the China News Service that the underground ventilation system had been destroyed and the mine was still riddled with fire and poisonous gas.

Xinhua reported the State Administration of Work Safety had sent five gas, ventilation and fire-fighting specialists to the mine to aid rescue efforts.

'The investigation team led by the State Council officials has already started work and we will seriously deal with anybody found to be at fault,' Mr Huo said.