By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Three miners were trapped underground by smoke for several hours on Wednesday before being brought safely to the surface at the Young zinc mine in Tennessee, authorities said.
Two other miners were taken to a local hospital suffering from minor smoke inhalation after a drill rig caught fire at the mine in New Market, Tennessee, Fire Department Captain Sammy Solomon said.
Fifty-four miners were in the zinc mine when the rig caught fire about 800 feet from the surface, and 51 of them were able to walk out of the mine, Solomon said.
"They are on the surface, they are on the ground. They are officially out," Solomon said just before 4 p.m. local time, adding that they appeared to be fine.
A team from state-run Tennessee Mine Rescue led the trapped miners safely to the surface. The miners had been talking with authorities at the surface by phone after the fire broke out. The fire call came in about 1 p.m.
Solomon, who has been a captain of the volunteer fire and rescue unit for more than 20 years, said a mine fire was almost unheard of in New Market, a town about 15 miles north of Knoxville in eastern Tennessee.
"This is the first time it's ever happened that I could ever remember," Solomon said.
Nyrstar, which owns the Jefferson County mine and has operations around the world, said in a statement that it was working with the Mine Safety and Health Administration and mine rescue teams to ensure that it was safe to resume mining.
Jefferson County is one of four counties in Tennessee with active zinc mining and milling operations that make it the nation's second-largest zinc producer, according to state data.
(Additional reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Jerry Norton and Tim Gaynor)