by Xinhua Writer Gong Yidong
XIANGNING, Shanxi, April 6 (Xinhua) -- The moment a mass of miners' cap lamps flicked on in front of him, Meng Quanfu burst into tears. He knew he was a part of a miracle: after eight days trapped in pitch black underground, more than 100 miners had been saved.
As 115 miners were lifted out of the Wangjialing Coal Mine in north China's Shanxi Province on Monday morning, rescuers like Meng found it was the miners' perseverance, wits, and optimism, together with an unbreakable belief in their rescuers, that carried them through the endless darkness.
Wang Kai, captain of a rescue team, was dumbfounded when a rescuer spotted beaming lamp lights at the other side of the V-shaped shaft at around 10:20 p.m. Sunday evening. "They took the hint and shook lamp lights consecutively, as a form of code signal."
The bottom of the V-shaped shaft had emerged as the water level was falling, and Wang's team was approaching the place where the light came from.
To their astonishment, two mining cars were floating on the water, and nine people had stayed inside for a couple of days.
Due to the limited space, the nine men had no options but to squad in the Noah's Ark, wearing safety helmets.
The gushing waters, erupted from an abandoned shaft on March 28, washed away one of the survivors, who fastened himself by tying his belt to the cave to prevent himself from drowning. He had soaked in the water for up to 72 hours before he spotted the two mining cars and climbed inside immediately.
The nine men became the first group of survivors pulled out of the shaft at midnight Sunday.
The 106 workers who were saved 13 hours later opted for another plan.
Under the guidance of an experienced worker, they dug open an abandoned tunnel and crept into a higher place, which they used as a safe harbor away from the torrential murky waters.
FOOD FOR ENCOURAGEMENT
Some of the trapped workers had relied on eating bark of pine wood and drinking the murky underground water to go through the ordeal, said Meng.
"Some of them ate the wrapping paper of detonators and cartons, or cotton from their cotton-padded clothes. They had embraced each other to quell coldness and keep warm."
The trapped miners were clever. Several of them gathered in a group and swayed their mine lamps in turns to enable themselves discovered.
Last Friday, rescuers drilled a vertical hole underground to ensure oxygen in the flooded pit. The trapped workers knocked on the hole to send the sign of life. Soon after, 250 bags of glucose, and letters of encouragement were sent down through the hole. However, rescuers on the ground heard no more banging in the following days.
"They didn't knock for fear of an explosion of gas and depletion of energy in the oxygen-deficient pit. Instead, they stayed where they were, waiting for rescuers to show up."
After having been trapped for three days, some young workers nearly went hysterical, fearing that they would die there. To soothe their emotions, some senior workers fabricated a story of three miners getting saved after having stayed in a pit for 25 days, which relieved the young to a great extent.
At around 10 a.m. on Monday, Meng entered the pit along with three other rescue members. Carrying facilities of more than 15 kilograms each, they sailed two five-seat kayaks to approach the trapped workers.
One of them led the way and cleared away debris, while others crawled upon the kayaks and moved ahead slowly, before they crossed a major water surface. Then, they walked onto conveyor belts and went on searching for the trapped workers.
"It was a hard journey, some parts of the belts had already been broken, making it easy for me to fall to the ground," said a rescuer named Zhang Jin.
"I staggered and shouted around 'anyone here?' But there was no response. I walked on, until I spotted footprints when the belt came to its end."
It was at the No. 20102 platform that a feeble voice answered back from afar: "We're here! We're here!"
Zhang caught sight of several swaying lamp lights in the distance. The rescuers ran into the direction, and found some miners lying or sitting on the ground.
Someone came up and asked Zhang, "Are you rescuers?" Zhang could not wait to reply, "Yes, we're here to get you out."
All of a sudden, all the lamp lights were tuned on, blazing the tunnel like daytime. The crowd of 106 were elated and many burst into tears.
Supporting each other, the trapped workers walked through the bumpy tunnel and reached the place where they were lifted out of the shaft.
For Meng, it was worth all the sleepless nights for the sake of so many lives trapped underground. "When the miner's lamp lights were on, I couldn't wait to share the good news to all the world, instantly!" he said, eyes sparkling.
(With reportings by Xinhua's Shanxi Bureau correspondents)