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1986: Kinross Miners 'killed where they stood'

VIDEO : Poison gas fumes killed men standing

At least 177 people have died during a lethal fire in a South African gold mine.

Poisonous gas spread rapidly through the shafts and tunnels of the Kinross mine in the Eastern Transvaal, killing most of the miners where they worked.

Six men are still missing but it is believed there is little chance of them being found alive.

A welder's spark ignited plastic foam lining the walls of a tunnel, starting the fire which resulted in one of the worst disasters in mining history.

The foam is used to stop water seepage, but contains a sealant called Rigiseal which gives off poisonous fumes when it burns.

The chemical is banned from use in British pits, and is soon to be barred in Australia.

The fire spread rapidly, and a spokesman for the mine's owners confirmed many of those killed had little chance of escaping.

"I think most of the 170 people succumbed to the toxic fumes in or near their place of normal work," he said.

A British man working at the mine said: "They didn't stand a chance - they were trapped by the smoke."

"We are obviously back to the dark ages of mining"

Mining leader Cyril Ramaphosa

The South African National Union of Mineworkers accused the owners of Kinross of not paying enough attention to the safety of their employees.

The union leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, told the BBC the disaster could have been avoided.

"We are horrified that this type of accident can take place in this day and age in the mining industry.

"In our view we are obviously back to the dark ages of mining - and there doesn't seem to be much improvement in safety standards," he said.

In Context
South Africa's gold mines were notoriously dangerous workplaces for the country's mainly black miners.

The men were usually unskilled and had to work at depths of up to 12,000 feet (3,658 m) and temperatures reaching 30C.

Between 1900 and 1993 69,000 mineworkers died in accidents and more than one million were seriously injured.

Kinross mine was heavily criticised for not announcing the disaster until hours after it happened, and for identifying the dead black miners by ethnic group only.

The Congress of South Africans Trade Unions established a national health and safety day in recognition of the tragedy.

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