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Four suspects in the investigation into the Pniówek mine disaster

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The Gliwice prosecutor’s office, which is investigating last year’s disaster in the Pniówek mine, has brought charges against four mine employees. They allegedly certified untruths in the documentation regarding methane concentration measurements, but in the opinion of the prosecutor’s office, there are no grounds to assume that their behavior had a direct impact on the occurrence of the disaster and its consequences.

Four employees of the Pniówek mine were charged with certifying falsehoods in the documentation regarding methane concentration measurements. These are the first suspects in the investigation conducted by the Gliwice prosecutor’s office regarding last year’s disaster in this mine, in which 16 miners and mine rescuers died.

“The suspects are miners employed as methane surveyors. They were charged under Article 271 of the Penal Code, i.e. certifying untruths in documentation – in methane concentration measurement books,” Joanna Smorczewska, spokeswoman for the District Prosecutor’s Office in Gliwice, said on Tuesday.

The charges brought against the suspects concern the period from January to the date of the tragic accident in April 2022, but in the opinion of the prosecutor’s office, there are no grounds to assume that their behavior had a direct impact on the occurrence of the disaster and its consequences.

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All four were charged in March this year, but the prosecutor’s office has not informed about them so far, justifying it in the interest of the proceedings. The suspects gave statements, but investigators are not revealing their contents. They may face a sentence of 6 months to 5 years in prison. The investigation is ongoing.

Rescue operation in the Pniówek mineJSW/Dawid Lach

Certifying untruths in the results of methane inspection

As described by the Katowice-based “Gazeta Wyborcza”, which on Tuesday wrote about the allegations against methane operators, there were 18 areas in the Pniówek mine that were subject to mandatory methane control, which was carried out by trained methane workers. Each of them had a manual methane meter and during a day’s work they had to check from 40 to even 100 places in the mine that were not covered by automatic methane measurement.

“Gazeta” quotes an informant who said that sometimes methane surveyors did not go around their area – they sat in one place and entered the results of fictitious measurements into the report. It also turned out that the methane engineer who prepared the report was not at work that day because he had the day off, and he completed the documentation with fictitious measurement data after returning from vacation.

After the disaster, at the request of the prosecutor’s office, the police seized many data carriers, including: computer hard drives in the mine’s control room, reports from the ventilation department or memory from hand-held methane meters used by methane collectors working underground. It was the analysis of this data that brought down the suspects, added “GW”.

Disaster in the Pniówek mine

On April 20 last year, as a result of a series of methane explosions in the Pniówek mine owned by Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa, 16 miners and mine rescuers who, after the first explosion, rushed to help the injured, lost their lives. Seven of them remained behind the dams, which separated the fire area from the remaining workings after the disaster.

To reach the missing people, it was necessary to excavate a new, almost 350-meter long gallery, parallel to the dammed mining wall. The work lasted several months.

From September 9 to 13 this year, rescuers penetrated the disaster area and began searching it. On September 11, they found the bodies of five missing people – members of the rescue team that helped the injured after the first explosion. On September 13, the sixth missing person was found, and on October 21, the last of the miners was found.

Candles in front of the Pniówek mine (photo from April 2022)TVN24

Prosecutor’s investigation after the Pniówek mine disaster

The prosecutor’s investigation was initiated shortly after the disaster and is being conducted under Art. 163 and 220 of the Penal Code. This is about unintentionally causing an event that threatens the life or health of many people or large-scale property in the form of an explosion, which resulted in death.

Article 220 of the Penal Code mentions failure to fulfill occupational health and safety obligations and thus exposing employees to direct danger of loss of life or serious damage to health.

Three days after the disaster in Pniówek, 10 miners died in the nearby Zofiówka mine after a strong shock and methane outflow – this mine is also the subject of a prosecutor’s investigation. Both accidents were the biggest mining tragedies in years.

Main photo source: JSW/Dawid Lach

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