Three college students were hospitalized in serious condition Monday after they were burned while dropping homemade gasoline bombs into one of Utah's thousands of abandoned mine shafts.
A fourth Brigham Young University student also was hospitalized with less serious injuries and two others were treated and released, said Phil Sahm, a spokesman for the University of Utah Health Care Burn Center. Several others were transported to nearby hospitals. Their conditions weren't immediately available.
The students were dropping Molotov cocktail-type devices into a mine shaft when a cooler filled with gasoline either spilled and caught fire or blew up prematurely, Utah County sheriff's Lt. Darren Gilbert said. The accident happened about 11 p.m. Saturday in a remote area of Utah about 80 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Authorities had not released the students' names, citing the ongoing investigation. BYU officials declined comment on Monday.
The Bureau of Land Management estimates there are up to 11,000 abandoned mine shafts on federal land in Utah, with roughly 2,400 of those having been sealed off with metal grates, agency spokesman Mitch Snow said.
Snow said one of the greatest dangers is methane and other toxic gases that can accumulate in the shafts.
"It is extremely volatile and could create an explosion much bigger than they thought would occur or it could channel the explosion right back up (the shaft) and cause serious injuries or death," Gilbert said.
The shaft involved in the weekend accident was sealed with a metal grate, but the students apparently were dropping the gasoline bombs through the small holes, he said.