Methane blast fear as 200 Yorkshire miners flee pit

A Yorkshire coal mine has been evacuated after what is believed to be a series of underground explosions.

Two hundred men were ordered out of Kellingley colliery at Knottingley, near Pontefract in West Yorkshire, on Tuesday evening.

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Production has been suspended and officials from the Government's Mines Inspectorate called in. No-one was injured in the incident.

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Operator UK Coal said today; "At tea-time miners working underground reported a loud noise from an area where coal had previously been extracted.

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"As a result UK Coal withdrew the men from the mine. The circumstances are consistent with there having been an ignition of methane. There are however several possible explanations. We have suspended normal mining operations."

The national secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers Chris Kitchen said: "We have been in touch with our branch officials at Kellingley. It seems there was a spontaneous combustion with a build up of methane gas which has ignited. I have been told there was a total of four explosions.

"We are very concerned, especially following what happened in New Zealand, that with our strict safety procedures something like this has happened. Fortunately 218 miners were evacuated safely.

A methane explosion caused the death of 29 miners at Pike River mine at Greymouth in New Zealand on Friday.

UK Coal said: "A full investigation involving Her Majesty's Mines Inspectorate, UK Coal and other parties into the incident is ongoing, and the underground environment is being constantly monitored."

The underground area involved is part of a 55m development of the pit and the exploitation of the pit's Beeston seam.

Kellingley employs 600 men and is one of Britain's most modern coal mines. Its two main shaft are almost 800 metres deep.

It is one of Britain's few remaining deep coal mines. Its first shaft was sunk in late 1950s and it went into production in 1965. At its peak it employed 3,000 men.

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