Chinese hail ‘miracle’ rescue of 115 miners

For once, it was good news that came from the depths of a Chinese coal mine as 115 workers were rescued Monday after eight days and eight nights trapped deep inside a mine in Shanxi province.

The extraordinary rescue turned into a round-the-clock reality show with state-run TV broadcasting live footage of the rescue workers carrying out the miners to a cheering audience. Rescue crews were still hoping as of Monday night to bring out 38 more miners.

Although the miners had their faces wrapped with towels to protect their eyes after so many days in darkness, their elation was evident. Even lying flat on his back, one clapped and gave a high-five to a rescue worker who had carried his stretcher.

“They were in high spirits,” Chen Yongsheng, the chief rescue worker, told Chinese television.

The miners had been trapped since March 28; that’s when, according to one survivor, a tidal wave of water came rushing into the mine they were constructing in Wangjialing, about 400 miles southwest of Beijing.

During the construction process, the workers hit an abandoned mine shaft filled with enough water to fill more than 50 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“I am really amazed that the miners held on in the mine shaft for eight days and eight nights,” Luo Lin, head of the State Administration for Work Safety, told Chinese television. “For them to survive after such a long time, it’s really a miracle.”

Some of the miners told rescue workers they had used their belts to lash themselves to the mineshaft’s walls to stay above the water level. One said he hung suspended for three days before spotting a mining cart floating by that served as a makeshift boat. Others said they had been eating bark from the shaft’s supporting beams.

Rescue workers had been trying to pump out the flooded mine for five days when on Friday they heard voices and tapping sounds from below. They dropped pens and paper to the miners through a pipe as well as a glucose solution for nutrition.

By Sunday, enough water had been pumped out to allow rescue crews to enter the mine in small boats. They could see lights from the miners’ lamps waving in the darkness, indicating the men were alive, but had difficulty reaching them because of fast-moving currents.

“There was barely enough space for our little boats. We used our hands to push ourselves forward along the ceiling,” Chen said.

The miners were suffering from hypothermia, dehydration, shock, low blood pressure and ulcers from their exposure to the water, said Liu Qiang, a doctor at the Shanxi Aluminum Workers’ Hospital, where the miners were being treated.

The rescue happened on a day when many workers were off for the Qingming holiday – when Chinese traditionally clean the graves of the ancestors – which made it that much more of a national spectacle. Chinese officials lost no opportunity to score political points.

“It has proved that we answered the Party Central’s call to rescue the miners with scientific methods,” said Shanxi’s Communist Party chief Zhang Baoshun.

The footage also showed a crowd of well-wishers outside the hospital holding up banners of support.

“I thank the party and the government. This rescue could only happen in China,” a woman said.

In the days after the accident, some family members had been critical of the mine’s owner, the state-owned Huajin Coking Coal Co. Ltd., which they said had been ignoring warning signs of accumulating water. The Chinese television footage as of last night had few interviews with family members.

Coal mining is one of the most dangerous jobs in China, with the quest for profits often leading to shortcuts in worker safety. In 2008, nearly 7,000 people were killed in coal mining accidents in China, although last year the toll fell to 2,631.

Tommy Yang from the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this article.