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Light Sentences in Miners’ Deaths

June 28, 2000

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Two mining executives were convicted of negligence Wednesday in an accident two years ago in which 10 miners were killed, and both received suspended sentences. Three other officials were acquitted.

Hermann Schmidt, the manager of the mine at Lassing, some 120 miles southwest of Vienna, and Wolfgang Wedrac, the regional mining authority’s chief, were convicted by a district court in the town of Leoben of endangering human lives through negligence in the July 1998 disaster at the Lassing talc mine.

Schmidt received a suspended prison sentence of 20 months and a fine of $8,300. Wedrac received a suspended sentence of 10 months and a fine of $7,450.

The trial dragged on for months, with the defendant’s lawyers disputing the prosecution’s contention, buttressed by two expert witnesses, that Schmidt and the others could have foreseen the accident because mining operations were too close to the surface.

The defense offered other evidence it claimed cleared their clients of any wrongdoing.

The 10 men who perished were themselves part of a rescue team which was sent into the mine in Lassing on July 17, 1998, when a landslide buried their colleague, Georg Hainzl, after days of heavy rain.

But a second, stronger mudslide trapped them in the collapsed mine, too, and officials declared there was no chance anyone survived.

Nine days later, however, Hainzl was found alive and in relatively good condition despite his ordeal. Rescue efforts intensified, but were plagued by breakdowns and equipment failures.

The bodies of the other 10 were never retrieved.

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