All 29 people trapped in a flooded coal mine in southwestern China were pulled to safety today, state media reported, in a rare bit of good news for the country's accident-prone mining sector.
China Central Television broadcast live images of people being taken on stretchers from the coal mine in Sichuan provinces to ambulances as rescuers and onlookers cheered, a day after the mine was flooded.
Such rescue successes are rare in China and the scene stood in stark contrast to the situation in New Zealand, where 29 men remained missing after an explosion at a coal mine last week, amid fears for their lives.
The official Xinhua news agency said 22 of those rescued in Sichuan were miners, while the other seven were people sent down after the accident in an initial rescue bid, but who in turn became trapped.
At least 35 miners were working in the Batian mine near the city of Neijiang when the flood hit, but 13 managed to escape, reports said.
All those pulled out today were wearing eye masks to protect them from the sun after spending long hours underground. State television reported they were in stable condition.
The scene marked a rare positive outcome for China's notoriously dangerous coal-mining sector, which is regularly hit by deadly accidents blamed on the flouting of safety rules as operators try to keep costs down.
The rescue in October of 33 Chilean miners after more than two months underground sparked criticism in China of the Chinese government's inability to prevent such mishaps or successfully rescue miners stricken by accidents.
Last year 2,631 Chinese miners died in the line of work, according to official statistics, but independent labour groups say the true figure is likely to be much higher as many accidents are believed to be covered up.
The government has repeatedly vowed to shut dangerous mines and strengthen safety, but the accidents continue with regularity as mines rush to pump out the coal on which China relies for about 70 percent of its energy.
Despite this, there have been rare examples of "miracle" rescues in China.
In March this year, for example, a flood at the huge, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the northern coal-mining heartland of Shanxi trapped 153 workers underground, of whom 115 were rescued.
Lin Shucheng, Sichuan's top safety official, was quoted as saying yesterday that the Batian mine had recently been renovated to increase its annual output to 60,000 tonnes from the 50,000 tonnes.
"But all of its operation are legal," he said. "Its business licence and production permits are valid."