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Wednesday, August 29, 2007Strange Sense of Humour
Two brothers who tunneled out of a collapsed mine were forced to eat coal and drink urine during the nearly six-day ordeal.
The men were even able to crack jokes about their wives remarrying once they were dead.
Meng Xianchen and Meng Xianyou surfaced on Friday after more than 130 hours trapped in an illegal mine in Beijing's Fangshan district.
News of their miraculous escape came as rescuers in northeastern China's Shandong province tried to reach 181 miners trapped in two flooded coal shafts.
Officials said today they had not given up hope even though the workers' chances of survival were dim after 11 days.
Rescuers had called off efforts to save the Mengs after more than a day, and grieving relatives had already burned ceremonial "ghost money" for the men's souls to use in the afterlife.
"At the beginning, our mobile phone still had power so there was a little bit of light. Two days later, the battery ran out so we could only feel with our fingers and listen," the brothers told the Beijing News.
The newspaper ran a photo of the men dressed in hospital gowns, standing and clasping the other's hand while surrounded by relatives.
Doctors have said the Mengs, whose ages were not reported, had kidney damage from lack of water but no other major injuries.
Officials have said rescue work was halted after experts determined there was no chance that the brothers from the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia had survived. Efforts to extract them would also have put rescuers at risk, they said.
The men were optimistic until the sound of digging outside stopped. Then they "totally had a breakdown. I told my brother, your wife is going to have to marry someone else," said Meng Xianyou
"I said right, I had been thinking about buying an apartment in town for my wife and it was going to be someone else's," Meng Xianchen added.
"I laughed too, I said my wife could find a rich man in Shenyang. But then I thought, I have two children and my wife is ugly, so it'd be hard for her to remarry," his brother joked.
The Mengs said they dug three horizontal tunnels but stopped because they felt they were going in the wrong direction.
Then they started digging a vertical tunnel, which ultimately led them to the surface.
"We were thinking about digging toward the surface so we dug a tunnel at a 75 degree angle. Actually in that situation, everyone just wants to survive. We thought, every metre we dig is one metre closer to the surface," they said.
The men, who each had 20 years of experience working in coal mines, clawed through nearly 66 feet of coal and rock with a pick and their hands. They dug through half a metre in three hours, taking turns working because the tunnel was too narrow.
"At first we didn't feel hungry, but later on we were so hungry we couldn't even crawl," Meng Xianchen said. "At the end, we were so hungry we ate coal and thought it tasted delicious."
They also had no water and were forced to drink urine using two empty water bottles they found in the coal shaft.
"You could only sip it a little at a time. After drinking it we wanted to cry," Meng Xianchen said.
The Mengs said they had worked for state-owned mines in the past but turned to the illegal mine - which had no oxygen, ventilation or emergency exits - because they got paid every two weeks or so, as opposed to once a month.
Still, they said they made only about US$265 each a month for working 12 hours a day.
China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with an average of 13 deaths a day in fires, explosions and floods. Deadly accidents often are blamed on mine owners who disregard safety rules.
The Mengs said their mining days were over.
"Never. Never again. Other people learn a lesson from being injured, we learned our lesson from almost losing our lives. Now we just want to go home safely and put this behind us," they said.