Rescue shaft offers hope for trapped Chinese miners

Rescuers are widening a communication shaft in the hope of extracting a group of Chinese gold miners who have been trapped deep underground for 10 days in rising floodwaters, state media said Wednesday.

Twenty-two workers became trapped hundreds of metres underground at the Hushan mine near Qixia city in east China’s Shandong province when an explosion on January 10 sealed the entrance and cut off communications.

Contact has been made with 11 miners at one location 540 metres (1,750 feet) below the surface. Another miner — apparently alone — is trapped a further 100 metres down.

After days without any sign of life, a handwritten note was sent up on a metal wire that rescuers had dropped into the mine on Sunday. In it, the miners pleaded for food and medicine and warned water levels were high in the damaged mine.

The whereabouts and condition of the other 10 miners are still unknown.

At least four of the miners are injured, according to their note.

“One trapped miner was critically injured in the blast and is currently in a coma,” Song Xicheng, deputy head of the rescue team told CCTV Wednesday.

Rescuers have already dug at least two “lifeline” channels to send food, medicine, paper, pencils and phones down to the stricken group.

There are plans for the widest of the shafts, about the size of a manhole cover, to be broadened enough to extract the miners once drilling is finished, state broadcaster CCTV said Wednesday. 

The progress of the rescue has been slow because they are drilling through granite, according to Chen Fei, a top city official.

And the extraction could be further complicated by the water-logged state of the mine.

“There is a lot of water in the shaft that may flow in and pose a danger to the trapped workers,” Chen said.

Overnight temperatures in Qixia are set to drop below freezing during the next week.

Currently, the group is recovering strength after supplies reached them, rescuers have said.

Several waterproof back-up phones were sent down to the trapped miners after they wrote a second note Tuesday morning saying earlier phones were damaged, the official Xinhua news agency reported. 

Rescue teams lost precious time as it took more than a day for the accident to be reported, China Youth Daily reported, citing provincial authorities.

Both the local Communist Party secretary and the mayor have been sacked over the 30-hour delay and an official investigation is under way to determine the cause of the explosion.

The trending hashtag “Shandong trapped miners sent another note” received more than 170 million views on China’s Twitter-like Weibo social network by Wednesday morning, as China began to take notice of the extraordinary rescue effort.

Mining accidents are common in China, where the industry has a poor safety record and regulations are often weakly enforced.

In December, 23 workers died after being stuck underground in the southwestern city of Chongqing, just months after 16 others died from carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped underground at another coal mine in the city.