Chinese citizens, rescue workers mobilise to save 21 trapped gold miners

An image of the rescue operation at Hushan gold mine in Qixia, a city in China’s eastern Shandong province, where 21 miners are trapped underground after an explosion.
An image of the rescue operation at Hushan gold mine in Qixia, a city in China’s eastern Shandong province, where 21 miners are trapped underground after an explosion. © Twitter
6 min

An explosion in the Hushan gold mine on January 10 in Qixia, a city in China’s eastern Shandong province, killed one miner and trapped 21 others underground. After a week without contact, rescue workers established communication with the miners on January 18, when the latter sent up a handwritten note via a shaft that workers had drilled from the surface. Images from Chinese social media show rescue workers and citizens alike mobilised to aid the miners, in an urgent mission that has provoked an outpouring of support from the population.

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“It’s another sleepless night, we will give it our all.”

A January 15 Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) video posted by a worker shows the rescue operation at Hushan mine at night. The video’s caption reads: “The rescue is still going on, thank you to the volunteers for the dumplings, it’s another sleepless night, we will give it our all.”

As the blast damaged the workers’ communication system, rescuers had no word from the miners trapped more than 600 metres from the surface until a week after the incident, when they heard knocking sounds on a drilling pipe they had inserted from the surface.

A January 17 video shows rescuers knocking on a drilling pipe and hearing knocking sounds in return. “There’s a response!” someone yells, and the crowd cheers.

After rescuers sent down food, medicine, and writing materials into the shaft, they received a water-stained, handwritten note back from the miners. The scrawled characters said that 12 people were still alive in the middle section of the mine, four were injured, and the condition of the ten other miners was still unknown. The note said that there was thick smoke and high levels of underground water and asked for painkillers, medical tape, and anti-inflammatory drugs.

The handwritten note sent up on January 17 from one of the shafts the rescuers drilled to deliver provisions to and communicate with the miners. The note ends with: “as long as the rescue operation continues, we have hope. Thank you.”

This January 18 Douyin video shows an interview with a rescue worker at the Hushan gold mine. “We’ve been at this for 7 hours, and we’re sending seven people into the mine at a time [to clear out the debris from the explosion]. All the workers here have been working nonstop for 24 hours, because these are our brothers in there, and even if we risk our lives we have to save them.”

The rescuers were able to install a wired telephone to converse with the trapped miners, who relayed that the physical condition of the injured has improved thanks to the provisions and medical supplies sent by the team. However, a miner who sustained severe head injuries had fallen into a coma and died on January 20.

The miners also sent up another note asking for a backup phone just in case. “If we can’t contact you, we won’t be able to find the party anymore.” In response, the rescuers sent several waterproof backup phones.

Another handwritten note sent by the miners on January 19: “please send another phone as a back-up.”
Another handwritten note sent by the miners on January 19: “please send another phone as a back-up.” © Weibo

As part of the rescue operation, workers have drilled 10 boreholes near the mine’s entrance, including one meant as a life rescue channel to lift the miners to the surface. A life detector was also lowered into one of the boreholes to try and establish contact with the 10 missing miners.

The explosion, whose cause is currently under investigation, was reported 30 hours after it had occurred, a decision that hampered rescue efforts and led to the sacking of the local Community Party secretary and mayor. 

Citizens offer support through food and encouraging online messages

Local villagers, volunteer groups, and enthusiastic residents from other cities have mobilised to feed the rescuers and the trapped miners. The Qixia Sky Blue Charity Group delivers warm meals to the site every night – 400 meat pies and 200 bowls of congee, a Chinese rice porridge. Qixia villagers also brought savoury crepes, steamed buns, and apples that they grew themselves. Even residents from other cities traveled expressly to Qixia to donate bags of specialty millet (for congee) and spicy pickles after reading news reports about the miners’ food cravings.

Volunteers in the Qixia Sky Blue Charity Group pour congee into bowls to deliver to the rescue workers at Hushan mine.
Volunteers in the Qixia Sky Blue Charity Group pour congee into bowls to deliver to the rescue workers at Hushan mine. © Weibo

This January 19 video posted on Weibo shows villagers in Qixia preparing and delivering food to the rescue workers.

Social media platforms like Weibo (China’s answer to Twitter) and Douyin have also seen an outpouring of support for the trapped miners. Users reposted news videos of the rescue operation with their own messages of support, and many wrote that they hoped the miners would be reunited with their families in time for Chinese New Year on February 12, 2021. 

The hashtag “Qixia gold mine” has been viewed 14,5 million times on Weibo, and similar hashtags have been viewed 20 million times on Douyin.

Mining accidents are not uncommon in China and result in hundreds of fatalities per year, often due to gas build-ups and poorly-enforced safety standards. As recently as December 2020, 23 miners perished in a carbon monoxide leak at a coal mine in Chongqing municipality. In the case of Hushan mine, state media outlets like China Central Television criticised the mining company’s delay in reporting the incident, calling it “intolerable” in a “race against death”.