Hope fades for trapped miners after seven days

Updated: 2011-08-30 07:36

By Zhao Yunpeng and Wang Huazhong (China Daily)

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BOLI, Heilongjiang - Hope for 22 miners trapped in a flooded coal mine in Boli county, Heilongjiang province, faded on Monday when supplies dropped into the mine through an emergency supply pipe went untouched.

Knocking sounds on the drill pipe that seemed to respond to other sounds had been heard on the surface after the miners were trapped on Aug 23.

Yet two life capsules, with flash lights and packs of nutritional liquid, delivered through the supply pipe to an area where the miners were believed to be, went untouched on Monday morning.

"Though the capsules were not collected, we cannot rule out the possibility that there may be miners still alive," Zhang Jun, a media relations officer for Qitaihe city, which administers Boli county, said.

"But no one can tell."

As of 8 pm on Monday, more than 110,700 cubic meters of water had been pumped out of the pit. The water level had dropped 32 meters and 10 pumps had been used, rescue headquarters told China Daily.

Volunteers and rescuers still believed that they could rescue their colleagues seven nights after the miners had been trapped.

About 160 rescuers take turns to search the mine for signs of life. "We search wherever we can go," one of them said.

The miners were trapped on Aug 23 when an adjacent and flooded mine was accidentally drilled into.

Three men, ranging in age from 37 to 41, were saved on Saturday night and remain in a stable condition in hospital. A body was retrieved from the mine on Sunday.

Hopes were raised on Sunday night when one of two emergency drills reached a level 277 meters underground where the miners might have been able to take shelter.

As fresh air was pumped in, rescuers said they heard knocking sounds on the pipe at 1:20 am on Monday.

"The sounds responded to other sounds", a rescuer said. "When we knocked, knocks were heard in response."

Experts confirmed that the sounds were signs of life at about 3 am, China National Radio reported. Then the first supply capsule was delivered at 6:50 am on Monday after rescuers withdrew the drilling pipe and placed a tube.

However, one hour later, when rescuers brought the capsule back up the tube, it was untouched. The second capsule was also untouched at noon on Monday.

China Central Television reported on-site experts saying miners may not be able to reach the capsules because of exhaustion or because they may have left the area when they realized that the water level was going down.

This was the second round of drilling. The first round, finished by Friday at depths of 280 meters, did not find any probable areas of shelter.

Rescuers also attempted to lower a camera into the mine but the sludge-like conditions prevented it working properly.

Wang Zhefei, a doctor in Beijing, said people could survive for weeks with water.