DOBRNJA, YUGOSLAVIA, AUG. 27 -- Rescuers recovered the bodies of 69 coal miners today and tunneled toward about 100 others trapped by an explosion, although there was no sign they were alive.
One miner who was working near the surface was pulled out of the mine alive shortly after the blast early Sunday. Bosko Zelic, a member of the Kreka mine's managing board, told reporters it was unlikely any more survivors would be found.
Mining Minister Radisa Gacic said in a statement that the tragedy should not be compounded by "by endangering the lives of any of the rescuers," but rescue teams refused to give up hope as they reached a point about 300 yards from an area where the shaft widens.
"If anybody happened to be in that spot during the explosion, he may have lived through it," said rescue worker Rasim Kekic. Other rescue teams were concentrating on clearing ventilation shafts or digging new ones in case some of the miners in the shaft were still alive. The blast left a crater 45 feet wide and about 15 feet deep where the entrance to the mine once was. Huge blocks of concrete that had formed mouth of the mine lay strewn around the area.
Mining inspector Mehmed Zulic said that the number of mining helmets and lamps that had been issued Sunday indicated that 170 men were underground at the time of the blast. All but two had been identified today.
The cause of the explosion has not been determined, but the investigation is focusing on an accumulation of coal dust or methane gas, mine officials said.
The miners at Kreka, about 90 miles west of Belgrade, had returned Saturday from a week-long strike that ended with the promise of a 100-percent pay raise, which averaged $270 a month.
Yugoslavia's federal trade union demanded the resignation of all those responsible for Sunday's explosion, even if blame is traced to local officials or government ministers.
Yugoslavia's worst previous mine disaster came in 1965 when 128 workers were killed.