BEIJING – Three miners survived 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southern China by drinking dirty water and chewing coal before rescuers burrowed through a collapsed tunnel to reach them, a local official and state media said Monday.
The men and 13 others became stuck when the Xinqiao Coal Mine flooded June 17. On Sunday, rescue workers digging into the mountainside cleared a path to the miners and saw their lights, which still gave off a dim glow, said Wang Guangneng, a Communist Party spokesman in the Guizhou province county of Qinglong.
The miners stayed alive by drinking water that seeped through the earth, Wang said. The official Xinhua News Agency cited a rescuer saying that oxygen was also able to get into the tunnel easily.
They also chewed on coal to stave off their appetite, the Guiyang Evening News, based in the provincial capital, reported.
It was not clear whether the men had any information on the others still missing. Rescuers had found the body of one miner a week after the flooding, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
A Xinhua photo showed one of the rescued miners, Wang Kuangwei, his bones prominent through his skin, getting medical attention Sunday, with his eyes covered to protect them from the light. The party spokesman said the three men were in stable condition.
During an interview with Shenzhen Media Group television, one of the miners, 36-year old Zhao Weixing, who was lying down with his eyes and face covered, told reporters: "I feel OK."
The miners' rescue after 604 hours underground was a rare tale of survival in China's coal mines, the world's deadliest, where an average of 13 workers are killed every day. Most accidents are blamed on failures to follow safety rules, including a lack of required ventilation or fire control equipment.
In August 2007, two brothers were forced to chew on coal and sip their own urine from discarded water bottles after nearly six days in a mine tunnel. They even managed to crack jokes during that time about their wives remarrying after they were declared dead.
In Sunday's rescue, the miners — all of whom were from central Henan province — were found 500 to 600 yards (meters) from the entrance to the mine shaft, on a level intersection that protected them from the flood, the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper reported. The ceiling had collapsed, blocking a path to the tunnel opening.
The county's head of work safety, Li Xingwei, was digging a channel into the mountain and found an unblocked pathway, then noticed the miners' lights, the newspaper said.
"We crept along the tunnel in excitement," Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.
Rescuers shouted to the men to remain calm, the Beijing Youth Daily report said.
Once rescued, it said, the miners did nothing but ask for water.