Workers digging feverishly through tons of debris pulled 12 bodies from a coal shaft rocked by a fierce explosion, and officials said they were certain all 57 miners had been killed.
Gottfried Milde, the Hesse state interior minister, said Thursday 36 bodies had been found in the shaft. Among those killed was an 18-year-old on his first day at work.It was West Germany's worst mining accident in more than 26 years.
At least 14 of the men trapped were Turkish immigrant workers. Some of the victims had survived the blast but died when their emergency masks ran out of oxygen, officials said.
Family and friends had kept an all-night vigil in this mining town 70 miles northeast of Frankfurt, waiting for the latest word on Wednesday's disaster, which officials attributed to a methane gas buildup.
Rescue workers used extra-sensitive listening devices, searching without success for any signs of life or tapping.
"The chances of finding any survivors have sunk to zero," said Hesse state mining director Wolf Boettcher.
Mayor Bernd Hessler said he did not believe survivors would be found because oxygen had probably run out for the miners the blast caught 330 feet below ground.
Erwin Braun, head of the Hesse state mining board, told reporters Thursday that the explosion was caused by a methane gas buildup and said he feared none of the 57 miners who were underground during the blast had survived.
"Rescue work is being hindered by heavy damage, and rescue teams can proceed only with oxygen masks," he said, explaining that there was still the danger of a methane gas buildup in the mine.
Braun said carbon monoxide levels inside had receded but were still severe.
Some of the dead were found with their miners' breathing masks on, he said, which means they survived the blast and apparently ran out of air. The breathing devices provide about three hours' of oxygen.
Other miners were killed by the explosion itself and will be hard to identify because of the extent of their injuries, Braun said.
The blast blew the roofs off at least three work buildings at the mine, knocked down sheds and shattered windows. Eight miners on the surface were critically injured by flying debris.
About 30 rescuers worked inside the mine through the night. Hundreds of others worked under floodlights above ground, pumping fresh air into the shaft and acting as support for the rescue teams.
"The air is very bad in there," said Klaus Hausmann, a blackened miner who was helping outside. "Things do not look so good - everything is blocked off."