Onlookers burst into applause as 69 coal miners who were trapped in a flooded shaft for more than three days were pulled out Wednesday, in a rare rescue from the world's deadliest mines.

The 69 were stuck underground but uninjured after the state-owned Zhijian mine in Henan province's Shan County filled with water early Sunday. Thirty-three miners managed to escape.

The trapped miners were pulled out alive midday Wednesday, the Xinhua News Agency reported. It said the first, identified as Nan Jianning, was met by a crowd who began clapping when they saw him. Most of the miners were unable to walk unassisted and some were placed on stretchers.

News photos showed miners, partially clothed and covered in soot, supported by rescuers and paramedics. They were also blindfolded, presumably to protect their eyes from the sun after being trapped underground for days.

Rescuers had piped in oxygen in a bid to keep the miners healthy and buy time to save them. They poured 149 gallons of milk down the 2625-foot ventilation pipe, which the miners drank from their helmets. It was their only source of nourishment in 76 hours, Xinhua said.

Hundreds of rescuers struggled to prevent more river water from entering the mine as they pumped out water from the shafts and cleared away silt. Xinhua had said earlier that the area where the miners was dry and had electricity and a telephone line.

China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with fatalities reported nearly every day in fires, explosions and floods despite government efforts to improve safety.

Deadly accidents often are blamed on mine owners who disregard safety rules and fail to invest in required ventilation, fire control and other equipment.