BEIJING – Onlookers burst into applause as 69 coal miners trapped in a flooded shaft for more than three days were pulled out Wednesday, a rare rescue in a country with the world’s deadliest mines.
The 69 were stuck underground but uninjured when the state-owned Zhijian mine in Henan province’s Shan County filled with water early Sunday. Thirty-three other miners managed to escape.
The trapped miners were rescued at midday Wednesday, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
News photos showed miners being led from the mine supported by rescuers and paramedics. Some were placed on stretchers. They were also blindfolded, presumably to protect their eyes from the sun after being trapped underground for days.
“Everyone knew we could be saved because the telephone line wasn’t broken. If it had been, we’d be dead for sure,” survivor Yang Wanjun, 32, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
Rescuers piped in oxygen to keep the miners healthy and buy time to save them. They also poured 149 gallons of milk down the 2,625-foot ventilation pipe, which the miners drank from their helmets. It was their only source of nourishment in 76 hours, Xinhua said.
The report did not specify how the rescuers reached the miners, but they had been pumping water out of the flooded shafts and clearing away silt since Sunday.
Happy endings are not the norm in Chinese mine disasters. Last year, according to the government, 4,746 people died in mine accidents in China – an average of about 13 a day. And those are the official statistics. All indications are that the number is higher.