MOSCOW Twenty six miners were missing and four confirmed dead after an accident on Thursday at a coal mine above the Arctic circle owned by a subsidiary of Severstal, Russian prosecutors said on Friday.
Announcing the opening of a criminal investigation into a possible breach of safety regulations at the Severnaya mine in Vorkuta, Russia's Investigative Committee said it had dispatched investigators and forensic experts from Moscow to the mine.
The Vorkutaugol mining company, which runs the mine, said parts of the facility had collapsed after a sudden leak of methane gas triggered two blasts, the TASS news agency reported.
The latest in a long line of accidents in Russia's coal mining industry, the episode is likely to raise fresh questions about how strictly safety rules are being followed.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered a special government commission to be set up to look into what happened, his spokesman told reporters on Friday.
A total of 110 people were in the mine at the time of the accident, 80 of whom have since been brought to the surface. But 26 are still missing and four confirmed dead.
A fire was still raging underground where the missing 26 miners may be trapped, TASS quoted a Vorkutaugol spokeswoman as saying.
Poor safety standards were behind an explosion at the Ulyanovskaya coal mine in the southern Siberian region of Kemerovo in March 2007 which killed 110 miners in Russia's worst mining accident since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn)