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China's safety standards in spotlight after fatal escalator incident

Security camera footage appears to show Ms Xiang Liujuan stepping off the mall escalator onto a metal panel, which gives way. Before she falls deeper into the pit, she raises her son up and he is grabbed by a mall employee. She is then dragged deeper
Security camera footage appears to show Ms Xiang Liujuan stepping off the mall escalator onto a metal panel, which gives way. Before she falls deeper into the pit, she raises her son up and he is grabbed by a mall employee. She is then dragged deeper into the machinery.PHOTOS: YOUTUBE

Safety standards in China are again in the spotlight following the death of a young mother just after she thrust her son to safety when part of an escalator collapsed under them.

The blame game has begun after local media reported that maintenance crew forgot to screw down a metal flooring panel at the top of the escalator after repairs.

Thirty-year-old housewife Xiang Liujuan had been shopping on Sunday morning at a mall in central Hubei's Jingzhou city. Security camera footage circulating online showed Ms Xiang and her son, aged below three years, on an upbound escalator as three women, believed to be mall employees, looked on.

As the mother and son were approaching the top, a metal panel in the flooring gave way, and the two fell halfway through the opening. Ms Xiang raised her son and an employee grabbed him. But she was sucked deeper into the machinery and disappeared after being held briefly by the hand by another employee.

 

It was over in nine seconds, but rescuers took more than four hours to cut through the escalator to recover her body, according to the Wuhan Evening News.

Many netizens have criticised the Anliang mall - which opened in 2012 and is one of the top-end complexes in Jingzhou - for not enforcing stricter work safety standards by suspending the escalator operations completely.

"Why didn't the staff stop customers at the entrance to the machine or just turn it off?" wrote a user on China's Weibo portal. "The department store is definitely responsible."

But netizens also questioned whether the victim should bear responsibility, citing reports that the mall's employees had sounded a warning not to use the escalator.

A relative wrote in a blog yesterday that the accident was "not an intricately plotted tragedy" and that the employees sounded the warning only after the mother and son were on the escalator.

Others focused on Ms Xiang's last act of love for her son. One netizen wrote: "I was appalled when I saw her sink, and at the same time felt the greatness of maternal love - the mother wasted no time pushing the child out when it happened."

Experts are puzzled as to why the escalator did not stop, as most are designed to do when the metal panel is opened or someone is inside. The shopping mall has yet to make any formal statement.

Local media reported that the Jingzhou escalator was manufactured by Suzhou firm Shenlong, which was set up in 1992. Its products are sold across China and exported to countries such as Malaysia.

The accident is the latest in a series of lift and escalator accidents.

In March this year, two people were killed when a lift at a hotel in coastal Qingdao city plunged from the sixth storey.

In May 2013, a woman in southern Shenzhen city was decapitated after being caught between the doors of a lift that malfunctioned and dragged her along for at least three storeys.

In July 2011, a 13-year-old was killed and 30 others injured after an escalator at a Beijing subway station suddenly changed direction during rush hour.

Chinese officials have warned that the rapidly increasing number of lifts and escalators would pose maintenance challenges.

"The dramatic increase in lifts in use, the ageing of equipment and the heavy load on lifts and escalators threaten their safe operation," Mr Chen Gang, deputy head of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, was quoted as saying in 2013 following a spate of accidents.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'Mum saves son before fatal fall into escalator pit'. Print Edition | Subscribe