Alexander Zakovryashin, a Russian first responder who descended into the Siberian coal mine fire in Russia to look for survivors, was found alive Friday morning in what authorities view as a “miracle.”
Fifty two people died in the coal mine explosion, including five rescuers who went into the mine to search for any workers who might have survived. A sixth first responder, Alexander Zakovryashin, 51, was also presumed dead, until he was rescued on Friday morning.
Authorities are still investigating what happened, but they believe that the coal mine fire was presumably due to a methane gas leak. A ventilation shaft allegedly filled with gas which led to the methane explosion.
Russian officials considered the coal mine accident, which occurred at the Listvyazhnaya mine in Kemerovo region, to be one of the most deadly mining accidents since the country’s Soviet era. The region in Siberia is known as Russia’s coal capitol.
Acting Emergencies Minister Alexander Chupriyan announced Alexander Zakovryashin’s rescue during a press conference, brimming to “share some happy news” after such a horrific disaster.
“One rescuer, Alexander Zakovryashin, was found,” he revealed. “He’s our medic. He was saving people. It’s some kind of miracle.”
According to Reuters, Alexander Zakovryashin managed to surface out of the coal mine and call for help. He was immediately hospitalized in the intensive care unit of a local medical facility, according to Kemerovo region Governor Sergei Tsivilyov, and is reportedly being treated for hypothermia, dehydration, and poisoning.
Acting Emergencies Minister Alexander Chupriyan announced that Alexander Zakovryashin will be given a special award for his daring rescue attempt.
Authorities have confirmed 14 deaths, according to AP News, including 11 miners and three rescuers. 31 people remain missing, with the death toll reaching at least 52.
Governor Sergei Tsivilyov reportedly said that he believed finding other survivors would be “highly unlikely” before first responder Alexander Zakovryashin made his way back to the surface and called for help.
“We smelled gas and just started walking out, as many as we could,” said Sergey Golubin, another rescued coal miner. “Impact. Air. Dust… We didn’t even realize what happened at first, and took some gas in.”
A buildup of methane gas halted rescue efforts as workers feared another coal mine explosion. According to AP News, 239 people were rescued from the mine so far, with 63 of the rescued coal mine workers seeking medical treatment at Kemerovo hospitals.
Investigators reported that coal miners complained in the past about the high levels of methane coming out of the mine, but that officials did little to respond. Russian authorities fined the coal mine for over 4 million rubles (roughly $52,940) due to safety violations, after work in the mine was suspended over nine times.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal probe, AP News reported, while the mine’s director and two senior managers were arrested and detained for endangering their workers. State officials allegedly inspected the mine earlier in the month and are also being questioned for surmised negligence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin released an official statement through spokesman Dmitry Peskov, offering “deep condolences to the families of coal miners who died.”
“We hope those trapped underground will be rescued,” his statement continued.
Methane explosions have ravaged Russian coal mines in decades past, including an incident in 2016 involving the death of 36 coal miners.
The Listvyazhnaya coal mine explosion is the deadliest in the region since 2010, when two consecutive explosions erupted in flames and killed 91 people. According to AP News, authorities inspected 58 coal mines after the 2010 disaster and claimed that 20 of the mines were potentially unsafe.