In a show of gratitude with his palms together and wearing a black blindfold, the first of 11 Chinese gold miners has been winched to safety on Sunday, 14 days after they were trapped by an underground explosion.
Footage showed the first miner to be rescued, a black blindfold across his eyes, being lifted out of a mine shaft on Sunday morning as a waiting crowded applauded his release.
Xiao Wenru, chief engineer of the mine rescue center of the Ministry of Emergency Management said that in the early hours of Sunday, after clearing small pieces of debris, rescuers found an empty space down under that was only blocked by large pieces.
“The discovery greatly expedited the rescue process,” Mr Wenru said.
Another rescuer told reporters: “For days we took turns to clear the debris in the shaft”.
“Today, we finally got the result we had hoped for”.
The miner was extremely weak, CCTV said on its Weibo site.
Another group of 10 miners will most likely remain trapped underground for another two weeks as rescue teams race against the clock to clear “severe blockages” before they can drill shafts to reach the group.
They are receiving supplies of food from the rescue team and are believed to be in good physical condition.
One miner died from head injuries sustained in the explosion.
The surviving trapped miners had been receiving normal food since Saturday local time after several days of living off nutrient solutions, according to China’s press agency Xinhuanet.
One of the workers put his palms together in a show of gratitude to rescuers and to family and friends who had kept vigil during his ordeal.
The first rescued miner, said to be in “extremely weak condition” was lifted from the mine at 11am on Sunday local time and taken to hospital, according to Xinhua.
Rescue workers wrapped the barely responsive man in a blanket before taking him to hospital by ambulance.
Over the next few hours, 10 miners from a different section of the mine, who had been receiving food and supplies from rescue workers over the last week, were brought out in batches.
One was injured but several of the others were shown walking, supported by rescue workers and wearing black cloth over their eyes, before leaving the site in ambulances.
Twenty-two workers were trapped about 600 metres underground in the Hushan mine by the January 10 blast in Qixia, a major gold-producing region under the administration of Yantai in coastal Shandong province.
Authorities have detained mine managers for delaying reporting the accident for more than 24 hours.
The cause of the explosion has not been announced.
Increased supervision has improved safety in China’s mining industry, which used to average 5000 deaths per year.
However, demand for coal and precious metals continues to prompt corner-cutting, and two accidents in Chongqing last year killed 39 miners.
Heartbreaking letter delivered to rescuers
Last week, the miners sent up a note to rescuers, pleading for help – and urgently needed medicine.
After days of silence, rescuers finally heard knocking sounds on Sunday afternoon as they drilled through the mine’s shaft.
Then came the note from below, saying that at least a dozen of the miners were still alive, but that they urgently needed help as their health deteriorated. They said they were surrounded by water and many were injured.
“We are in urgent need of medicine, painkillers, medical tape, external anti-inflammatory drugs, and three people have high blood pressure,” the note read.