MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The billionaire head of mining company Grupo Mexico warned that past efforts to find the bodies of miners killed in a 2006 blast had been “high risk,” a day after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged to try again to recover their remains.
German Larrea, chief executive of the Mexican mining firm and one of the country’s richest men, issued the warning in a letter published by the government on Thursday.
Lopez told a news conference on Wednesday he was determined that the bodies of more than 60 miners remaining at the site be found, a decision he framed as a humanitarian gesture toward the blast victims’ families.
Some 65 men were killed in the massive mine shaft explosion on Feb. 19 2006 when methane gas caused the collapse of the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in northern Coahuila state. Only two of the bodies were recovered.
Grupo Mexico, which operated the mine, has maintained that it was an unfortunate accident and that the firm had compensated families.
In the moments following the blast, the workers were likely buried by thousands of tons of rock. Investigators said at the time it was possible that many of the men were incinerated as the blast brought the inside temperature to above 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 Fahrenheit).
Larrea wrote in his letter that rescuers had made an enormous effort to find bodies for 14 months after the blast.
“Every day, the risks for the rescue squads kept growing, until it stopped being humanly possible. We could no longer put human lives at high risk to recover the remains of the miners,” he said.
However, Larrea, who rarely makes public statements, did not oppose the Mexican president, with whom he has a history of clashes.
Lopez Obrador told reporters on Thursday that Larrea had “agreed to help and collaborate” with the new effort.
The mining tycoon hit Lopez Obrador politically just ahead of his landslide election win last year, arguing that if adopted, a “populist economic model” would dent employment and investment in Mexico.
The businessman offered last year’s critique in a letter to his company’s employees that was later made public, and in turn Lopez Obrador criticized him for resisting change and only caring about his own fortune.
Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Sandra Maler