Turkish search ends as last missing miners found

Police officers pray at the graves of the victims of the mine accident in Soma, Turkey, Saturday, May 17, 2014. Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Saturday that crews had found more bodies overnight, raising the death toll to 301. An explosion and fire at a coal mine in Soma, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Istanbul, killed hundreds of workers in one of the worst mining disasters in Turkish history. (AP Photo/Emre Tazegul)

SAVASTEPE, Turkey - Turkish rescue workers have completed their search in Turkey's worst mining disaster after retrieving the bodies of the last two missing miners, the nation's energy minister said Saturday.

Taner Yildiz said the death toll from the May 13 explosion and fire that devastated a coal mine in Soma, western Turkey is 301. Another 485 miners escaped or were rescued, he said.

"All corners of the mine were searched by a large team and there was no other body or living person," he said.

"Until today we had focused on search and rescue efforts. Now we will be focusing on investigations, on what will happen about production," Yildiz said.

"We won't be leaving (Soma) because the search efforts are ending," he added. "There will be psychological and social support."

Government and mining officials have insisted that the disaster was not due to negligence and the mine was inspected regularly. Akin Celik, the Soma mine's operations manager, has said thick smoke from the underground fire killed many miners who had no gas masks. High levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide have also been a problem for rescue workers as well.

But one miner, 24-year-old Erdal Bicak, told The Associated Press that believes the disaster was due to negligence by the mining company.

"The company is guilty," Bicak told The Associated Press, adding that managers had machines that measure methane gas levels. "The new gas levels had gotten too high and they didn't tell us in time."

Yildiz said "the true cause of the accident will be assessed ... through different dimensions. There will be lessons to draw for the mining world."