The first group of rescuers and divers today entered a flooded Chinese mine where 153 workers have been trapped for almost a week, but returned within hours and described the situation underground “very difficult.”
There have been no further signs of life since tapping was heard yesterday and the divers said black, murky water was complicating efforts to reach the site where rescuers hope miners are still alive, state-run China Central Television reported.
Wen Changjin, an official with the news centre set up at the mine in the northern province of Shanxi, said the next step in the rescue plan is under discussion and isn’t expected until Sunday.
Television footage on Friday afternoon showed rescuers tapping on pipes with a wrench, then cheering and jumping after hearing a response – the first sign of life since the mine flooded last Sunday.
They lowered pens and paper, along with packs containing glucose and milk, down metal pipes into the mine but nothing more had been heard as of Saturday afternoon.
Rescuers also lowered a listening device down the drill pipe to the pit, hoping to hear voices or other sounds of life, but heard nothing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
It was not immediately clear what risks rescuers were taking by entering the Wangjialing mine, but 3,000 rescuers were working to pump the water out that poured in last Sunday when workers digging tunnels broke into an abandoned shaft.
Wen said the water level underground had dropped by about 15ft (5 metres) as of noon Saturday.
Experts said it could take days to reach the miners, and their survival depended on whether they had decent air to breathe and clean water to drink.
David Feickert, a coal mine safety adviser to the Chinese government said: “They’re doing probably the only thing they can do, which is to pump water as fast as they possibly can.”
The 153 workers are believed to be trapped on nine different platforms in the mine, which was flooded with the equivalent of more than 55 Olympic swimming pools, state television has reported.
Rescuers said four of the platforms were not totally submerged, Xinhua has reported.
A preliminary investigation found that the mine’s managers ignored water leaks from the abandoned mine before the accident, the State Administration of Work Safety said.
Accidents in China’s coal mines killed 2,631 miners in last year, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, the most dangerous year on record, according to the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.