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Fight to reach India miners nears climax

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RANCHI, India — A desperate battle to reach 29 Indian coal miners who have been trapped for four days neared its climax on Tuesday after rescuers pumped millions of gallons of water out of a flooded coal mine.

"The water is receding, we are hopeful that the rescue team will go in to locate the miners late tonight or early tomorrow," said Ramanuj Prasad, a spokesman for Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL).

Navy divers recovered the body of one mine worker overnight after it had floated out during pumping operations, and a team of six entered the still-inundated mine with pontoons as dusk fell on Tuesday.

Prasad said there had been no contact established with the miners. Hopes for their survival were pinned on chances that they may have found an air pocket or taken shelter on higher ground in the more than 0.6-mile-long mine.

BCCL had previously said 35 miners were trapped underground when the workings at its Bagdih coal mine were inundated by water gushing in from an adjoining flooded pit through a breach in the coal seam, but later revised the total down to 30.

Prasad said he still hoped the trapped men were alive.

"I'm still hopeful. Miracles happen. We're confident of reaching the miners today," he told Reuters.

"The water level has come down to 70 meters (230 feet). Now the rescue team should be able to go down to the pit," Prasad added.

The mine is located near Dhanbad, the main town in the mineral-rich eastern state of Jharkhand. BCCL is a subsidiary of state-owed giant Coal India Ltd.

At least 100 miners were working underground when the disaster occured last Friday afternoon. Sixty-five miners were immediately rescued but 30 remained trapped.

The member of parliament for the area, Rita Verma, has demanded a judicial inquiry into the accident.