Trapped Chinese miners ate coal as they dug their way free

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The Independent Online

Two brothers who tunnelled out of a collapsed mine were forced to eat coal and drink urine during the nearly six-day ordeal, but still were able to crack jokes about their wives remarrying once they were dead, a state-run newspaper has reported.

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 escape came as rescuers in north-eastern China's Shandong province tried to reach 181 miners trapped in two flooded coal shafts. Officials said they had not given up hope even though the workers' chances of survival were slim 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 Beijing News.

Doctors 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 had survived.

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," Meng Xianyou told Beijing News.

"I said I had been thinking about buying an apartment 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. 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 dug a vertical tunnel, which led them to the surface.

The men, who each had 20 years of experience working in coal mines, clawed through nearly 66ft 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.