The third hearing of a trial on a mine disaster last year in central Turkey opened on Monday with accounts from the survivors who managed to flee the flooded mine where 18 miners died.
Sixteen defendants including the owner of the mine in Ermenek, a central Turkish town in the province of Karaman, appeared before the court that heard 40 eyewitnesses, mostly survivors, in this week's hearings.
The bodies of workers were recovered within one month after a sudden outburst of water flooded the mine on Oct. 28, 2014. The mine's owners, executives and technical staff were among those arrested on charges of negligence. They are accused of continuing mining operations despite an obvious risk of flooding from another, now-defunct mine the flooded mine was built next to.
Statements by eyewitnesses in yesterday's hearing gave both a harrowing account of the moments of the disaster and the alleged lack of safety in the mine.
Mustafa Elibol, a worker, told the court that there wasn't "any problem" in the spot where an outburst of water started flooding the mine 30 minutes before the disaster. He said he already heard about previous water outbursts in the mine before he started working there and knew the mine was adjacent to an old mine. Elibol said employers "shut down some parts of the mine" before visits by safety inspectors and reopened them after inspectors left.
On the moments before and after the disaster, Elibol said, "I was walking ahead of the workers and we were going through the galleries when we felt a foul-smelling wind. I saw water suddenly filling the gallery and shouted at the others to run away. Some managed to escape and others couldn't."
Mesut Öner, another miner, said he was having lunch in the mine at the time of flooding. "We started running and were warning others we came across. I was running toward the exit and I saw cables inside the mine catching fire. I was short of breath but I managed to reach the exit," he said. Öner said some other miners told them not to call police and said they would inform the bosses first. Öner said the coal they extracted was "always damp" and "engineers, others, everybody knew it."
"There has always been water in the galleries," he said. Öner said they used to build walls to cover illegally opened galleries before inspections.
In the first hearing of the trial in June, mining company owners denied knowledge of the risk of flooding in the mine and had blamed low-level staff including engineers for not informing them.