An explosion ripped through a coal mine in western Indonesia, killing at least 17 people and burying 23 others who were feared dead, officials said on Wednesday. Dozens of rescuers tried to reach the trapped men after the Tuesday morning blast, but rock slides and a mix of gas and coal debris forced them to resurface after four hours of digging, district police Chief Yasman Esha in West Sumatra province said by phone from the scene.
"We fear the miners are dead by now," Esha said. Four bodies were recovered soon after the morning blast at the 300-foot (100-meter) -deep mine in Sawahlunto regency on Sumatra island, he said. Eight more were pulled out late Tuesday after teams pumped oxygen into the mine shaft to allow rescuers to breathe. Health Ministry Crisis Center chief Rustam Pakaya said 16 miners were rescued, but five with severe burns died later in a hospital. Two others were in critical condition, he said.
Police were trying to determine what caused the blast. A preliminary investigation said it was triggered by leaking methane gas.
The mine, owned by a local company, is 560 miles (900 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Jakarta.
Indonesia has some of the world's largest coal deposits and is a major coal exporter.