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"The engineer on duty should have evacuated the workers when an increased concentration of methane was observed": Lawyer of the family of the injured miners on the shameful decision of the prosecutor's office to dismiss the criminal charges 23.01.2024

The criminal complaint filed by the then Minister of Mining and Energy, Zorane Mihajlović, against the management of the “Soko” mine near Sokobanja, for the death of eight and injuries to 18 miners, was dismissed, and this decision followed the delivery of the findings of the Commission of Experts of the Faculty of Mining and Geology in Belgrade, which assessed that it was force majeure. Lawyer Bratislav Stojanović, who represents the families of the miners who died, does not agree with that opinion and has submitted a submission to the Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Aleksinac in which he disputes the commission’s findings.

“The commission should deal with the circumstances that led to the accident, and not draw legal conclusions, that is the job of the court, not the commission of experts.” We have evidence that it was not force majeure. The higher concentration of methane in the mining pit is a natural event, but it is not a force majeure, because it could have been avoided by stopping work in the mining pit while the higher concentration of methane was present. Namely, the on-duty mining engineer working in the third shift had the task of monitoring the situation in the mining pit and when he notices that the concentration of methane in the mining pit has increased, to stop work and evacuate the workers and thus prevent an accident,” explains lawyer Stojanović.

On the fateful evening, something happened that was a clear sign that the concentration of methane in the pit had increased and that the miners were in danger. But the person in charge ignored all those warnings.

“Before the sudden increase in the concentration of methane in the pit, there were four shutdowns of the ore extraction machines, which were located in the mining pit, this should have been enough for the engineer on duty to stop work in the mining pit and evacuate the workers.” Those machines are set to automatically shut down when the methane concentration is greater than 1.5%. However, he ignored it and those machines were turned on manually 4 times,” explains lawyer Stojanović.

Even the miners in the “Soko” lignite mine, near Sokobanja, warned days before the fateful April 1st that methane could be felt and that the working conditions were unsafe. For 10 days they protested and tried to warn about the danger that threatens them, but no one listened to them.

“They protested not to work, not to go, to stop it, but… In the end, it came true.” They have been working at that place for days, they were aware that they were in danger because they were digging under the lake,” said the son-in-law of one of the deceased miners, Branko Chokoril, to the portal earlier.

Bratislav Živković (59), Branko Čokorilo (56), Branislav Zlatanović (55), Radovan Grujić (47), Darko Zlatković (43), Nenad Trivunac (37), Bojan Stajić (34) and the youngest – Petar Petrović, who was only 31 years old, was told at the beginning of the commemoration. Another 18 of their colleagues were injured.

It all happened around 4:02 a.m., when a large amount of methane seeped into the pit where the miners were. They suffocated. Only a few seconds were enough for them to start losing consciousness and falling. Eight of them did not survive. The portal once published a recording of the conversation between the mine dispatcher and the miners, as well as the manager of the “Soko” mine.

Information about the occurrence of methane was registered at 04:02:30 when the dispatcher informed the excavation that the concentration of methane from the excavation was 1.54%. At 4:04:04, the dispatcher reports again for methane (the conversation is not understood).

“At 04:08:09, the dispatcher announces that the VV-2 substation has failed, which he switches on from the dispatch center, but he sees on the monitor that the separate fans are not working. The dispatcher tells someone that the substation is on, but that the ventilation will not turn on and asks the electrician to turn on the ventilation and that the methane is over 5%. “According to the dispatcher’s written statement, in the meantime methane appeared in front of the fan (which was visible on the monitor), on the stationary methane detection instrument in room TN-3,” the report states.

During the conversation, the voice of a miner is heard, whose words perhaps best describe the whole situation: “When are we going to take them outside?” We can’t pull it all off ourselves, bro. How are they not ashamed, huh?”.

Note: In the first version of this text, due to the carelessness of the editors, it was announced that the criminal complaint against Minister Mihajović was dismissed, and it should have been the complaint that the minister sent to the prosecutor’s office. We apologize to our readers for this inadvertent omission.

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