‘I had to step on my friends’ bodies to escape’: Turkey mine survivor
The 29-year-old was among 485 miners who managed to get out alive from the explosion and fire in a coal mine in the western town of Soma
Murat Yokus may have escaped Turkey’s deadliest mine explosion, but he is unable to erase the memories of his friends falling one by one to the ground, suffocated by thick fumes that engulfed the tunnels where they were trapped.
“I had step on the bodies of my friends to escape, I had to trample on them,” he recounted, his eyes swimming with tears, five days after the tragedy which claimed 301 lives.
The 29-year-old was among 485 miners who managed to get out alive from the explosion and fire in a coal mine in the western town of Soma on Tuesday.
And only just.
“What happened is indescribable,” Murat recalled.
“I was about to get out of the mine to go home when we saw fumes arriving,” he said. “At first, my boss told us to wait, but we started to get impatient.”
About a hundred of them were crammed in an area of 300 square metres (1,076 square feet).
And when he learnt that colleagues who were located in another part of the mine had all died from asphxiation, he decided to disobey his boss’s orders.
“I told myself ‘I am not going to die here, not now’,” Murat said.
“I took the oxygen mask that I had not used until then and I started to walk. When I looked back, I saw many of my friends on the ground.”
They were “suffocating, fighting to survive like sacrificial animals.”
“They were struggling against death.”
Convinced then that he would breathe his last underground, Murat said he thought of “his two young children, his wife, his family”.
“I recited my last prayer,” before passing out, he said.
Luckily, he was quickly evacuated.
As he was carried out by rescue workers, Murat regained consciousness and chose to walk out on his own.
“You cannot imagine the panic, my colleagues pacing back and forth, the stress, the fear,” he said.
Even if miners are aware that theirs is a dangerous job, Yokus said no one is ever really prepared for such an accident.
A preliminary expert report on the accident, obtained by the Milliyet newspaper, pointed to several safety violations in the mine, including a shortage of carbon monoxide detectors and ceilings made of wood instead of metal.
But Yokus, who risked his life for 800 euros a month, would not criticise his company or question if safety standards had been met in the mine.
Despite everything, he is planning to go back underground for another ten years in order to qualify for an early retirement.
“We cannot do anything else. There is no farming here, no companies, no other jobs,” said Yokus, whose father also worked as a miner.
“But I will go to another mine,” he said.
“In this one, I have lost too many friends to be able to step in there again.”