Madrid (AFP) - A gas leak at a coalmine in northwestern Spain killed six men and injured five on Monday in the country's deadliest mining accident in nearly two decades, officials said.
One of the injured miners was in serious condition following the accident at the Santa Lucia mine near the town of Pola de Gordon, an emergency services spokesman said.
He was flown to a hospital in Leon, the regional capital located about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away, in a medical helicopter.
The four other injured miners were taken to the hospital by ambulance.
"There seems to have been a leak of methane gas. The mine is very treacherous," the mayor of Polo de Gordon, Francisco Castanon, told local television.
Family members and friends of the miners gathered at the entrance of the coalmine, which is some 700 metres (2,300 feet) underground and belongs to Spanish firm Hullera Vasco Leonesa, to wait for news.
The gas leak happened so quickly that the miners did not have time to put their protective masks on, said Jose Antonio Colinas, who represents miners at the local branch of the UGT trade union.
"They really did not have time to react, the atmosphere was invaded by methane," he told reporters at the scene.
It is the worst accident at a Spanish mine since 14 miners were killed on August 31, 1995, due to a methane explosion at a coalmine near Mieres in the northern province of Austurias.
Spain's coal mining sector has been contracting for decades, with a reduction in government mining subsidies hastening the closure of unprofitable mines.
Around 40 coalmines are still in operation, mainly in the north of the country, employing some 8,000 miners.
Like other European countries, Spain has committed to gradually close unprofitable coalmines in the next few years.