China rescues 11 miners after 14 days trapped underground

The man was in "weak physical condition", CCTV said.
The man was in "weak physical condition", CCTV said.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - Chinese rescuers pulled 11 gold miners to safety on Sunday (Jan 24), 14 days after they were trapped by an underground explosion, state broadcaster CCTV reported, with at least four others still believed to be alive in the mine. 

Footage showed the first miner to be rescued, a black blindfold across his eyes, being lifted out of a mine shaft in the morning.

The miner was extremely weak, CCTV said on its Weibo site. 

Rescue workers wrapped the barely responsive man in a blanket before taking him to hospital by ambulance. 

Over the next few hours, 10 miners from a different section of the mine, who had been receiving food and supplies from rescue workers last week, were brought out in batches.

"We made a breakthrough this morning," chief engineer at the rescue centre, Mr Xiao Wenru, told the Xinhua news agency.  "After clearing these broken, powdery pieces, we found that there were cavities underneath ... our progress accelerated." 

One was injured but several of the others were shown walking, supported by rescue workers and wearing black cloth over their eyes, before leaving the site in ambulances.

Rescuers have been battling difficult conditions to help 22 workers since an underground explosion at the Hushan mine in Shandong province sealed them underground amid rising waters on Jan 10.

Contact was first established a week ago with a group of 11 miners trapped in a section of the mine around 580m below the surface. 

One of them was seriously injured in the initial explosion and has been confirmed dead after suffering head injuries and falling into a coma. 

Rescue teams have been lowering food, medicine and other supplies through several "lifeline" shafts drilled into the rock.

Life detectors and nutrient solutions have been lowered to other parts of the mine to find the other missing miners. 

The first rescued miner was found in a section closer to the surface than the section where the first group is located, CCTV reported. 

State media footage on Sunday showed several tall drills boring down. 

A 12th miner is believed to be trapped on his own, 100m further down in rising waters. 

Rescue workers said on Friday it could take at least another two weeks to free the miners, citing a massive blockage that has delayed drilling efforts, according to state media. 

State media said earlier however that the more than 600 rescuers on site were hoping to reach the men in the mine’s fifth section on Sunday.

The men were said to be in good physical condition and had been receiving normal food since Saturday, after several days of living off nutrient solutions, according to Xinhua.

Rescuers are trying to widen one of the shafts to eventually allow the workers to be brought up to the surface. 

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 becoming stuck underground in the south-western city of Chongqing.