Coal mining in China is arguably the world’s deadliest industry. Of the 20 deadliest coal mining disasters ever, eight have been in China. Four accidents in 2005 alone killed over 70 people: an explosion in Liaoning that killed 210; a flood in Guangdong that killed 123; an explosion in Xinjiang that killed 83 and an explosion in Shanxi that killed 72. The worst mining accident ever, a coal dust explosion, killed 1,549 miner at the Honkeiko Colliery in China on April 26, 1942.

There are frequent explosions of the gases released in mining. Many of the explosions in Chinese coal mines occur because a buildup of gas because of lack of ventilation in illegal mines. Describing what happens before a tunnel collapses, one miner in Datong told New York Times, "Sometimes it happens with no warning. Sometimes you hear a sound. Then you hear pop-pop-popping and you run as fast as you can to get out." Recalling the scene after a gas explosion in a mine, one man old the Los Angeles Times, “I saw two people run out screaming, “The people at the bottom are done for.” Their faces were covered in black. Some of them were so shaken they kept throwing up and crying. Their brothers and uncles were still down below.” The next day he said, carts and pulleys normally used to bring up coal were used instead to bring up corpses.

Although the toll from accidents has fallen, China’s mines remain among the deadliest in the world in part because of lax regulation, corruption and inefficiency. Accidents are common because safety is often neglected by mine owners seeking quick profits and officials pressured to supply energy to meet the demands of the world's second-largest economy. A government campaign to close small, illegally operated mines and upgrade equipment has markedly improved safety in recent years The government shut down about 2,000 small coal mines in 2014 and 2015 to improve safety standards. The decline has coincided with plateauing demand for coal as the Chinese economy has cooled and concerns about smog have encouraged efforts to reduce coal use. While China still produces and consumes almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined, the amount it burned in recent years is down in some years. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press October 25, 2014; Reuters, December 13, 2013]

Beijing wants to do better. In an interview with the South China Morning Post in 2015 the director of the State Administration of Work Safety, Yang Dongliang, said his long-term goal is to one day have mostly robots working in the nation’s coal mines. He said authorities were already working on it, with about 95 percent of China’s largest coal mines using robotic mining equipment. However, medium and small-sized operations still rely on manual labour, he said. [Source: Cecilia Jamasmie,, March 20, 2015]

Chinese Coal Mine Disaster Survivors

In July 2007, 69 coal miners were trapped in a the Zhijian mine in Henan Province after the tunnel they were in became flooded by heavy rains. . They managed to escape to a dry place inside the mine. Milk and water and air was delivered to them by tubes inserted in holes drilled to the place where they sough refuge. They were rescued after three days after fellow miners worked around te clock pimping out water and clearing away mud.

In August 2007, two brothers tunneled their way out of a collapsed illegal mine near Beijing. They survived for six days on a diet of coal and urine. One of the miners said, “At first there was no feeling, but then I was so hungry I couldn’t crawl anymore. I got so hungry I ate a piece of coal, and I thought it quite fragrant...Actually coal is bitter but you can chew up pieces the size of a finger. In the mine we picked up two discarded water bottles and drank our urine. You can only take small sips. And when you are finished you just want to cry.” Their diet they said negated their need to defecate. The brothers had been given up for dead. Their families had burned funeral money for their souls. The news of their escape was put in the front page of Chinese newspapers as feel good story intended to take attention away from 181 trapped miners whose plight received relatively little attention.

In April 2010, 115 miners were pulled out alive after being trapped for eight days in a mine in northern China. In August 2011, rescue workers saved 19 miners from a flooded mine where they had been trapped for a week in Qitaihe in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. Of the 45 miners who were in the mine when it flooded, 19 escaped, four were rescued a few days later, one of whom later died, and another 19 were pulled out a few days after that. AFP reported: The mining company said it had bored 278 meters into the rock to pump oxygen into underground space where the 19 rescued men were trapped and that they had survived by drinking water dripping from the rocks. Workers had been pumping water out of the Heilongjiang mine for days and drained 56,150 cubic meters (about 2 million cubic feet), The government in Boli county,”where the mine is located,”said it had sacked two top officials for their roles leading up to the disaster, including the county head. Seven officials had been detained over the mine’s operation. Provincial authorities had ordered work at the mine owned by the Hengtai Coal Mining Co. to halt in 2007, but a week before the disaster the owner illegally restarted production, Xinhua said. [Source: Jonathan Landreth, AFP, August 31, 2011]

Mine Disasters in China in the Early 2000s

In October 2000, an explosion at a coal mine in Guizhou Province killed more than 160 people. A few weeks later a 10 miners doe in Henan Province in shafts that were suddenly flooded. The mine had earlier been shut down but reopened illegally. Around the same time 45 died in an explosion in Shanxi. In April 2001, 48 miners were killed in a gas explosion in Shaanxi Province. Only four miners in the shaft survived. In July 2001, more than 90 miners were killed in a gas explosion in a coal pit in the southeastern province of Jiangsu. A few months later 23 people were killed in an explosion in Shanxi.

In July 2002, 43 miners were killed when a gas explosion tore through the small Dongsheng coal mine in Heolongjiang Province in northeast China. A month earlier 115 died in another coal accident in Chengzihe mine in the same province. The latter had been ordered seven times to shut down.

In April 2003, 72 miners were killed in a gas explosion in the Mengnanzhuang mine in Shanxi Province in northern China. The same month, 27 were killed in a gas explosion in the Mengjiagou mine near the city of Fushan in the northeastern province of Liaoning. In May 2003, 86 miners were killed when a gas explosion ripped through a 1,950-foot-deep shaft in a state-owned Luling Coal Mine near the city of Huabei in Anhui Province in eastern China. Twenty-seven were rescued. In November 2003, 49 miners were killed in a gas explosion in the Jianxin Coal Mine, a large mechanized mine that produces 600,000 tons of coal a year, in Jiangxi Province in central China. The blast was the third fatal explosion at the same mine in three years.

Mine Disasters in China in 2004 and 2005

In 2004, 6,027 people died in coal mine explosions, fires and floods. In February, 29 men were killed in an explosion in a coal mine in Shanxi Province. A month later 26 were killed in an explosion in a different coal mine in Shanxi. Both were illegal mines. In October, a gas explosion in a state-owned coal mine near the industrial city of Zhengzhou in Henan killed 148 miners. It was the worst coal mine disaster in years. About 446 people were in the mine at the time and 296 escaped alive. Most of the dead died from suffocation or inhaling poisonous fumes. In November, a gas explosion at a different coal mine in Henan killed 33 miners. In November, a gas explosion in the Chenjiashan coal mine near Tongchuan in Shaanxi Province killed 171 miners. It was one of the worst mining disasters ever. About 120 miners escaped. Many of these were seriously injured. In some cases the miners were told to keep working after the explosion and told that if they left they would be fired. During the retrieval of the bodies three explosions occurred but none of the rescuers were hurt.

In 2005, 5,986 people died in 3,241 coal mine explosions, fires and floods. Those that died in major mine accidents — those involving more than 10 deaths — increased 60 percent to 3,586 from the previous year. In February, 214 miners were killed in a mine explosion in a mine in Fuxin City in the northeast province of Liaoning. The blast occurred 242 meters below the ground. Survivors said that there was an enormous shudder about ten minutes before the blast.. Afterwards the shaft filled with smoke. It was the worst accident in half a century. In July, 86 miners were killed in a mine explosion near Fukang in Xinjiang; 26 miners were killed in a mine explosion near Tongchuan in Shaanxi Province.

In March 2005, gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in Shanxi Province killing at least 60 miners, with 9 others still unaccounted for. The China Daily reported: “The deadly blast occurred at 12:20 pm at the Xishui Coal Mine in Shuozhou. Fifty three miners were working in the pit when the blast happened — 50 were buried underground while the others managed to escape. The strong explosion also caused the collapse of the neighbouring Kangjiayao mine, where 19 miners were trapped. Local police detained four people of the Xishui colliery for disregarding an order to suspend production due to safety problems. Built in 1993 by a local township, the mine was licensed to have an annual output of 150,000 tons, but it was ordered to suspend production for safety checks. The Xishui mine operators, who contracted the mine from the township and lured by potential profits amid a nationwide power shortage, restarted the unsafe operation. The explosion came just two days after a blast in a coal mine in Fengjie County, Chongqing, which killed 19 miners.[Source: China Daily, March 20, 2005]

In August 2005, at flood at the privately-owned Daxing Colliery in Wanguai town in Meizhou City in Guangdong Province, killed more than 100 miners. The exact death toll was unknown in part because 65 mangers and officials in charge of supervising the work disappeared and left no records. The same month 24 coal miners suffocated to death when gas leaked into a pit at the Zhenxingfa coal mine in Henan Province.

In November 2005, an explosion in at the Dongfeng Coal Mine neat Qitaihe in Heilongjiamg Province, not far from the Russian border, left 171 dead. The blast was so strong it killed several workers above the ground. The disaster brought worldwide attention to the problem of miner safety and forced the government to take more drastic measures to do something about mine safety. Relatives were promised up to $27,200 in compensation. The mine owner and four officials at the mine were given prison sentences of 3½ to 6 years for dereliction of duty and failure to comply with safety regulations. The blast was blamed on airborne coal dust that ignited, and probable could have been avoided with proper ventilation. The town has suffered a series of disasters. In May 2004, 12 people were in an explosion. Blasts also killed miners in March and May 2005.

In December 2005, a coal mine explosion at the Liuguantn Colliery in Tangshan, a city in Hebei Province left at least 74 dead. One hundred eight miners were in the mine at the time of the explosion. Eighty-two managed to escape on their own, 32 were rescued but three later died.

Mine Disasters in China in 2006 and 2007

A total of 4,746 workers were killed in coal mines in 2006. In February 23 people were killed in an explosion at the Sihe Coal Mine in Shanxi Province. In March 23 people were killed in a flood in the Fanjiashan Coal Mine in Linxon county on Shanxi. Also in March, 59 people were killed in a gas explosion in two adjacent coal mines at the Xishui Colliery near the city of Shouzhou in Shanxi Province. The mine had recently been given an order to suspend production. Mine owners there were arrested for failing to obey a cease operations order.

In April, 27 people were killed in an explosion at the Wayaobao Coal Mine in Shaanxi Province. In May, 56 miners died after being trapped by a flood in the Xinjing coal mine near Datong in Shanxi. The dead miners had accidentally tunneled into a flooded mine next to their own. Two Chinese officials and 19 mine and banking officials were detained and a manager was arrested after having been found “to have a correlated responsibility for the flooding accident.” In July, 50 coal miners were killed by an underground explosion at the Limjiazhuang coal mine Jinhing, a city in Shanxi Province. In August, 18 coal miners were killed following a gas leak at the Dahuiyao coal mine Ningwu county in Shanxi Province. In November, a coal mine explosion in n Heilongjiamg Province left 21 dead. Around the same time a gas explosion at a coal mine in Yunnan Province left 32 dead

3,786 people died in coal mine accidents in 2007, down 20 percent from 2006. In March 2007, a flood and gas leak at a coal mine in Liaoning Province killed 29 miners. The same month an explosion at a coal mine in Shanxi Province killed 21 miners. The accident was more serious than it might have been because the mine owner tried to cover up the accident and a rescue was not mounted until 44 hours after the explosion occurred. In July, five managers at the mine, were given sentences up to life in prison In April 2007, 28 people were killed by two gas explosions at mines in Hebei Province. In November 2007, 32 people were killed in a coal mine gas leak in southwestern Guizhou Province. The gas leak occurred at the Qunli Coal Mine in Nayong County, where 86 miners were working a shaft. Fifty-two were rescued.

In December 2007, an explosion at a mine in Hongtong County in Shannxi Province killed at least 105 miners. Only 15 miners were rescued. The owners of the mine delayed reporting the accident, wasting crucial time that could have been used to launch a rescue. The same month, an explosion at the Rui Zhiyuan coal mine near the city of Linfen in Shannxi Province killed 40 miners. Only 15 miners were rescued.

In 2004, 6,027 people died in coal mine explosions, fires and floods. In 2005, 5,986 people died in 3,241 coal mine explosions, fires and floods. A total of 4,746 workers were killed in coal mines in 2006. 3,786 people died in coal mine accidents in 2007, down 20 percent from 2006.

181 Miners Killed In Shandong in 2007 in China

In August 2007, 181 miners died in mines run by the state-owned Huayuan Mining Company in Xintai in eastern Shandong Province, about 490 kilometers southeast of Beijing, after heavy rains caused a 30-meter-high earthen levee to burst, allowing waters from the rain-swollen Chaiwen River to flow through a 59-meter-wide breach in the levee into the shafts of the 2,800-foot-deep mine, quickly overwhelming pumps. .

Management blamed the disaster on the weather. Many families saw this response as an effort to shirk responsibility One woman who lost a husband and a brother in the mine told the Washington Post, “The accident was not a natural disaster at all. It was a man-made disaster. The weather bureau said we were going to have lots of rain. Two other mines in the area closed, but not ours.” The day before the disaster the two mines involved in the tragedy had been singled as being particularly vulnerable to floods produced by heavy rains.

More than eight inches of rain fell on the day of the disaster. An estimated 12 million cubic meters of water and 3,000 cubic meters of mud flowed into the mines. The problem became serious when water burst through a wall deep in the mine, allowing mud-laden water to go everywhere, filling up shafts One miner who survived told the Washington Post, “I said to myself ‘something terrible has happened.” He escaped by climbing through ventilation shafts, some filled chest high with water, for five hours.

Stories circulated that managers spent their energy trying to stop the breach and save the mine from damage rather than warn miners. Some relatives stormed the Huayuan Mining Company offices, smashing windows and accusing the managers hiding the truth. Police were called in to surround the building. Reporters were allowed to cover the story at first but were turned away from the site as criticism grew.

A total of 756 miners were working in the mine when the flood occurred. A total of 584 made their way to freedom or were rescued. Soldiers and workers worked through the night pushing abandoned trucks, sand bags, trees, rocks and other materials to close of a long section of the breached levee. The effort to pump out the water from the mine was futile, even with five massive pumps brought in from other mines plus three pumps at the mine. Most of the miners presumably drowned.

Of the 181 miners who died, 172 miners of them were working at Huanyuan Mining Co.’s Zhangzhuang Mine and nine others were working at the nearby Mingging Mine. The Zhangzhuang Mine is a large state-owned mine that produces 750,000 tons of coal a year and has 6,000 people on its payroll. Employees there complains that the company was trying to boost production figures by making the miners work longer hours, sometimes with only two days off a month.

Coal Mine Accidents in China in 2008 and 2009

In February 2008, nine people were killed in an explosion at a coal mine in Shanxi. In April 2009, a blast at a three-story dynamite and detonator warehouse at a mine in Yongxing County in Hunan killed 18 people. In June 2008, 27 miners were killed in an explosion in the Anxin Coal Mining company mine in Shanxi Province after “explosives” blew up at the bottom of a shaft. The explosion occurred where 58 miners were working. Fifteen miners managed to escape Nine were rescued. Seven were trapped.

In July 2008, 18 miners were killed when a mine shaft collapsed in a mine in Shenmu county in Shaanxi Province after “explosives” blew up at the bottom of a shaft. Twenty-eight miners were working underground at the time of the accident. In August 2008, 14 miners were killed in an explosion in coal mine in the city of Yuzhou, Henan Province. In September 2008, a gas explosion in a mine in Jiuqing in Sichuan Province killed 18 miners. Around the same time 27 people were killed in a collier in Liaoning Province in northeast China. The same month, In September 2008, a gas explosion in a private mine near Dengfeng in Henan Province killed 31 miners. A total of 108 were underground working at the time. Sixty-eight escaped. Around the same time 19 people were killed in a coal mine fire in Hegang City in Heilongjiang Province in northeast China.

In February 2009, a gas explosion in the Tunlam Coal Mine in Gujao City neat Taiyuan in Shanxi Province, killed 74 miners, injured 114 and trapped dozens more. The pre-dawn explosion occurred when 436 workers were in the mine. The explosion caused the power to be cut off and the ventilation system to stop working. Most the injured suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. One survivor said that he walked for 40 minutes before finally passing out just as he was nearing an exit. The mine had a good safety record before the accident, the deadliest in more than a year, In August 2009, 11 miners were killed and three were missing in a gas explosion in a coal mine in Jinzhong in Shanxi Province.

In September 2009, 44 people were killed and 35 were trapped by a gas explosion in a coal mine Pindingshan, Henan Province. A total of 92 workers were in the mine at the time of the blast. Thirteen managed to escape. Three mine managers were detained and two local officials were sacked in connection with the accident. Pingdingshans 157 mines were shut down pending safety reviews,. In November 2009, 10 people died from a gas explosion at the Zhenxing coal mine in Guizhou Province . Xinhua reported that 172 miners were underground at the time of explosion. Three others were hurt.

In November 2009, 108 people died in a gas explosion at the Xinxing Coal Mine in Hegang, Heilongjiang Province. Hegang is near the Russian border. The accident was the worst in two years. A total of 528 miners were in the mine at the time the accident. Most were rescued. Relatives of victims gathered outside the mine company offices and scuffled with police and demanded answers. Because the Xinxing mine is relatively large and state-owned it was regarded as safe. The explosion occurred 500 meters below the surface and w as caused by a gas build up. It was powerful enough to cause a building on the surface to collapse and shatter windows within 20 meters of the mine shaft. One miner who was briefly knocked out by the blast told AP, “When I regained consciousness I groped my way out in the dark and called for help. Rescuers endured bitter cold as they tried to rescue a handful of miners that were trapped.

Lijiawa Mine Disaster Cover-up

in July 2008, 35 people were killed in a mining explosion at the Lijiawa mine in Hebei Province, about 100 miles west of Beijing but news about didn't make its way to the public until months later. Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times, “When an underground fire killed 35 men at the bottom of a coal shaft, the telltale signs of another Chinese mining disaster were everywhere: Black smoke billowed into the sky, dozens of rescuers searched nine hours for survivors, and sobbing relatives besieged the mine’s iron gate...But though the owner and local government officials took few steps to prevent the tragedy, they succeeded, almost completely, in concealing it. For nearly three months, not a word leaked from the heart of China’s coal belt about the July 14 explosion that racked the illegal mine, a 1,000-foot wormhole... Local officials pretended to investigate, then issued a false report. Journalists were bribed to stay silent....It was so dark and evil in that place, said the wife of one miner who missed his shift that day and so was spared. No one dared report the accident because the owner was so powerful.” [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, April 10, 2009]

Mine bosses relocated bodies, destroyed evidence and paid the journalists the equivalent of $381,000 to cover up the explosion, in which 34 miners and a rescuer were killed, China Daily reported. Earlier reports by other news organizations indicated that the bosses also cremated miners’ bodies against the wishes of family members, paid grieving relatives to silence them and sealed the mine shaft with truckloads of dirt. The investigation of the cover up began after someone reported the cover-up on an Internet chat site in September 2008 and resulted in the firing of 25 local officials and putting 22 of them under criminal investigation.

In November 2009, ten journalists and 48 officials were charged with taking bribes to cover up a mining disaster at the Lijiawa mine. The China Daily reported that 48 officials were being charged, including the mine owners, the county chief, work safety officials and police officers. The China Daily said one of the journalists was almost certainly Guan Jian, a reporter from Beijing working for a newspaper called China Internet Weekly. Prosecutors accused Guan of receiving $36,600 from officials under the pretense of running two pages of advertising in his newspaper, and also receiving a so-called newspaper subscription fee of $4,400. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 30, 2009]

The accident happned when five tons of explosives stored illegally in the mine caught fire. The miners trapped hundreds of feet underground had only a megaphone to summon help. Many suffocated trying to crawl out of the tunnel. Only three or four survived. The Lijiawa mine had only a single shaft, which is dangerous in that there is no means of escape if something happens. According to the New York Times: “Even though its owners lacked all six required licenses, it operated on state property in full view of a state-owned mine for more than three years. The mostly migrant miners were paid $600 a month, high for migrant labor, but so were the risks. Before the accident 59 mules died from unventilated mine gas. Some oxygen cylinders were on hand in case of emergencies, a miner said, but we didn’t know how to use them.” During the Beijing Olympics in 2008 Lijiawa was able to stay open while other mines were closed. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, April 10, 2009]

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in New York Times, A worker at the mine “said the mine owner, Li Chengkui, enlisted him to deal with thevictims’ families. He wanted the relatives split up so they would not kick up a row. Over the next few days, Li or his managers struck deals with the families: or about $120,000, if the miner was local; half that much if the miner was a migrant worker. The relatively high sums reflected the owners’ eagerness to suppress complaints. Locals were given more because they could cause more trouble, the miner said. The widow of the miner Yang Youbiao said she was hustled from the mine to a local hotel, then to another county and finally to a third county. There, she picked up her husband’s ashes even though she had wanted to bury his body. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, April 10, 2009]

“In September, an Internet posting pleaded for justice. The writer said he had repeatedly reported the accident to the authorities. No feedback for over 70 days!!!! he wrote. Instead, callers threatened him...Hebei’s governor finally disclosed the accident in October.

Coal Mine Accidents in 2010 and 2011

Official figures show that 1,973 people died in coal mining accidents in 2011, a 19 percent decrease from 2010 when around 1,600 died. Labor rights groups say the actual death toll is likely to be much higher, partly due to under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit their economic losses and avoid punishment.

In January 2010, 12 people were killed in a coal mine fire in Xinyu city in Jiangxi Province. The fire was said t ave been caused a short circuit in and underground cable. In June 2010, an explosion in a coal mine in Pingdingshan city in Henan Province killed at least 46 workers, making it one of the deadliest in 2010. Twenty-six were initially rescued.

In October 2010, around the time the miners in Chile were being rescued, a gas blast at the Pingyu Coal & Electric mine near Yuzhou in Henan Province killed 37 Chinese miners. There workers were drilling a hole to release pressure from gas build to decrease the chance of an explosion. Total of 276 miners were in the mine at the time of the explosion and 239 managed to make it to the surface. The blast produced 2,500 tons of coal dust that smothered the shafts. A blast at the same mine in 2008 killed 23 workers,

In November 2010, 29 miners were rescued from the flooded Batian Coal Mine about 650 meters below the surface in Sichuan Province. The mine became flooded and waters from a nearby abandoned mine flooded a shaft in the small privately-owned mine. Initially 35 miners were trapped. While 13 mines escaped, seven workers that went into the mine to rescue the others themselves became trapped. The remaining miners were rescued after the shaft was drained, Chinese television showed the miners — naked, barefoot and wrapped in white quilts with their eyes shielded from the light — being led out of the mine.

In August 2011, six miners died when a mine in southwest China's Sichuan province flooded, also trapping another six. In October 2011, a coal mine explosion in southwestern China killed at least 17 miners. The official Xinhua News Agency said 28 miners were in the shaft when the blast occurred in Guizhou province. Eleven were rescued and being treated in a hospital. Initial reports said 13 miners had died, but three rescued workers later died in a hospital and another body was recovered from the shafts, bringing the toll to 17. [Source: AP, October 5, 2011]

In October 2011, a coal mine gas explosion in Hengyang, Hunan Province killed 29 miners. Xinhua reported: A total of 35 miners were working underground as the mishap happened around 6 p.m. in the Xialiuchong Coal Mine. Of them, six have been rescued. Over 40 rescuers earlier were invovled in the rescue operation. A 40-year-old mining enterprise, the state-owned Xialiuchong Coal Mine is a legally-operating mine with more than 160 miners.[Source: Xindua, October 30, 2011]

In November 2011, 34 miners died after a gas leak occurred in a coal mine in southwest China's Yunnan province. Xinhua reported: As of 9:30 a.m. 34 bodies have been found, and nine miners are still trapped underground at Sizhuang Coal Mine, located in the county of Shizong near the city of Qujing. Hundreds of rescuers are continuing to search for the trapped miners, Another 181-meter-long section of the tunnel has yet to be cleared, warning that a risk of large amounts of gas underground would hamper the operation. The mine was operating illegally, having had its license revoked in 2010. [Source: Xinhua, November 13, 2011]

Wangjialing Mine Rescue in 2010

In March 2010, 153 miners were trapped by a flood at the huge, state-run Wangjialing coal mine near Yuncheng in Shanxi Province. The floods occurred when workers accidentally dug into a network of old, water-filled shafts. About 300 workers were in the mine when it flooded, with 108 escaping or being rescued soon after the flood occurred. One miner who escaped told CCTV the mine was flooded with a swell of rushing water: “It spilled like a tidal wave and I was so scared, I immediately ran away and looked back to see some others hanging behind. I shouted at them to get out. It was unbelievable because I got out from 1,000 meters underground.”

Thirty-eight people died when the Wangjialing coal mine flooded as new shafts were being built in an accident blamed on lax safety standards. An investigation revealed that safety rules and warning had been ignored in a rush to exploit the mine. A notice posted on the State Administration of Work Safety website read the mine “violated regulations and policies during te work process, did not conform to the regulations on coal mine preventions of water leaks...Water leaks were found numerous times in underground shafts but still they failed to take action to eliminate potential risks.” Managers accused of ignoring alarms about water leaks fled.

About 1,500 rescue workers were put to work laying pipes, tunneling and setting up pumps to drain water. Rescuers stepped up their efforts when they heard tapping on pipes several days after the flood. Divers were first sent down put they were unable to reach the miners in the murky water. When some of the water had been pumped out rescuers in rubber rafts squeezed through narrow passages and reached the first nine survivors and pulled them to safety. Eleven hours after that a major rescue operation was mounted and it reached most of the trapped miners.

More than a week after the shafts were flooded 115 survivors were pulled out alive from the watery darkness of a flooded mineshaft. The survivors stayed alive by eating sawdust, pine bark, coal, and the cotton filling from their clothing. Some strapped themselves to the walls of the ruined shaft with their belts to avoid drowning while they slept; Others found refuge and moved about on mining carts that floated by. Most were rescued from a platform above which rescuers had drilled a hole to give the trapped miners some air and food supplies, mostly glucose. At that stage five bodies were recovered and 32 miners were still trapped in three different places inside the mine. Some of those rescued were badly dehydrated. There were fears that some suffered from gas poisoning.

One 27-year-old survivor told Xinhua, “How fantastic to be on the ground again.” Chinese television showed the miners being brought out one by one, laying on stretchers, wrapped in blankets, with towels covering their eyes to protect them after so long under ground. Rescue workers in blue and orange jumpsuits loaded them on ambulances while white-smocked medical staff gave them IVs and oxygen. Work safety official Luo Lin told CCTV that “two miracles” had occurred: “the first is that these trapped people have made it through eight days and eight nights — this is the miracle of life, secondly, our rescue plan has been effective — this is a miracle in China’s search and rescue history.

The rescue at Wangjialing received widespread media coverage and was even turned into a film. Associated Press reported: CCTV showed rescuers with helmets and oxygen tanks carrying the workers out of the mine shaft to ambulances. The miners lay on stretchers, wrapped with blankets and with towels shielding their eyes from damaging exposure to light. [Source: Scott McDonald, Associated Press November 5, 2011]

Luo Lin, head of the State Administration for Work Safety, praised the rescue after the last miner . He said a magnitude-2.9 earthquake had occurred near the mine shortly before a "rock burst" was reported. The phenomenon occurs when settling earth bears down on mine walls and causes a sudden release of stored energy. The exploding chunks of coal and rock, or the shock waves alone, can be lethal. According to Xinhua, workers were digging a tunnel about 2,500 feet (760 meters) long, but after the rock burst, the tunnel appeared to have "basically folded" a little more than halfway down the passage, at 1,580 feet (480 meters). It was unclear what the condition of the tunnel was beyond that point,

The rescue work was hindered by the large amount of coal dust thrown up by the explosion, CCTV said. Survival depends on the intensity of the rock explosion and if ventilation can be provided, a local official said. "If it was not very strong, it might have caused the tunnel to get narrower, but we might still be able to send some air in there to ensure ventilation. But if the impact was pretty strong and caused the tunnel walls to collapse, then the ventilation was probably cut off immediately, suffocating the people trapped there," he said.

In July 2011, a mine shaft collapsed in Heshan city in Guangxi trapping 19 miners. Forty-nine of 71 miners managed to escape when the coal mine collapsed. Initial investigations indicate that the collapse was caused by continuous heavy rains. A survivor said there was a loud explosion before the cave in. Four days later Xinhua reported, “Rescuers are racing to dig through a sludge-flooded tunnel to reach 19 miners who are trapped in a collapsed coal mine...sources with the rescue command center. By 9:00 am, rescuers reached half way of the 25-meter tunnel that is studded with sludge of mud and coal, said Su Fuchao, general manager of the coal mine company. The tunnel is thought to be closest to six miners who have the highest chance of survival, Su said. The six miners were initially estimated as being trapped 320 meters deep. Su said the rescue work faces with great difficulties as the density of toxic gas inside the shaft is not stable. Rescue efforts were suspended the day before due to high levels of toxic gas. Also, the tunnel's sludge slowed the rescue operation. "We are trying to clear off a giant rock now, but we can only progress a few centimeters per hour," Su said. In the end a few of the miners were rescued but most died. [Source: Xinhua, July 5, 2011]

Coal Mine Accidents in 2012 and 2013

China's National Coal Administration reported 1,067 deaths in 604 coal mining accidents in 2013. This is down from 1,384 in 2012 and that's down from more than 6,000 in the mid 2000s, largely due to the closure of small and unregulated mines and increased inspections. “Safety in coal mining continues to steadily improve,” China’s State Administration of Work Safety said in 2013. [Source: AFP, January 6, 2014]

In August 2012, 44 miners died in an explosion at mine in Sichuan. The BBC reported: About 150 miners were in the Xiaojiawan coal mine when a gas explosion occurred. Fifty of the survivors are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and another seven are reported to be in critical condition. [Source: BBC, September 1, 2012]

In September 2012, 20 coal miners died in Baiyin city in Gansu province after a steel cable broke as it was pulling two carriages at a coal mine . Xinhua said 34 miners were riding in the carriages when the cable broke, overturning the carriages in the mine. It said 14 miners were rescued. [Source: Associated Press, September 25, 2012

In November 2012, an explosion at a mine in Liupanshui city in Guizhou Province, in southwest China killed 18 people. Xinhua reported: Another five people were still trapped underground in the pit after the accident at the Xiangshui coal mine. The blast at the mine, part of the Guizhou Panjiang Group, went off at 11:00 am and by early evening 18 people were confirmed dead while several others had been rescued. [Source: AFP, November 24, 2012]

In March 2013, 21 coal miners have been killed and four more are missing following an accident inside a mine in the southern province of Guizhou. The State Administration of Work Safety said Wednesday that a rescue effort has been mounted. State media reported that another 58 miners safely escaped the accident. The same month, a gas explosion at a state-owned coal mine outside the city of Baishan in Jilin province in northeast China left 28 people dead. Other than the 28 dead, Xinhua said 13 people were rescued. [Source: Associated Press, March 29, 2013]

In April 2013, three trapped Chinese miners rescued after spending almost 60 hours trapped underground in flooded shaft in coal mine in Guizhou province's Weng'an county. Three others died and three were missing. Xinhua reported: The mine flooded at around 10 p.m. trapping nine miners. Rescuers waited for the water level to recede before entering the shaft. [Source: Associated Press, Associated Press, April 8, 2013]

In May 2013, an explosion at a coal mine in China's southwest Guizhou province killed 12 miners and injured two others. The blast occurred in the Dashan coal mine in Pingba county. A day later, 27 miners were killed in a coal mine blast in Sichuan in southwestern China. Associated Press reported: The work safety bureau in Sichuan province says 108 miners were working underground when the accident happened Saturday afternoon. Of the 81 rescued, six were seriously injured and nine suffered minor injuries. [Source: Associated Press, May 11, 2013; BBC, May 10, 2013]

In December 2013, a blast at a coal mine in China's far-west Xinjiang province killed 21 people. Reuters reported: The gas explosion initially trapped 34 workers at the Baiyanggou coal mine. Thirteen were rescued while the rest had died. [Source: Reuters, December 13, 2013]

Coal Mine Accidents in 2014

China said that coal mine deaths down hit a record low of 931 in 2014, down 87 percent from 2013 and significantly less than 7,000 casualties in 2002. If numbers were accurate this would be the first time since the 1980s that the annual death toll in China’s coal mines fell below below the 1,000 mark. [Source: Cecilia Jamasmie,, March 20, 2015]

In April 2014, 22 workers were killed in a coal mine accident in Chongqing in southwestern China. Xinhua reported: The accident, which occurred on Tuesday evening at the Yanshitai Coal Mine municipality's Wansheng District, was caused by a "gas incident".A total of 28 miners were working at the time of the accident. Two miners were also injured, the report said. State-owned Nantong Mining Co Ltd, owns the mine. Two workers were killed in a coal mine accident in the northern province of Shanxi in January. [Source: Reuters, June 3, 2014]

In July 2014, 17 coal miners died after being trapped by a weekend gas explosion Xinjiang in northwestern China. Xinhua reported: The miners were trapped by the explosion at a mine 120 kilometers (70 miles) from Urumqi. The cause of the incident was under investigation. The pit where the explosion occurred is mined by Dahuangshan Yuxin Coal Mining Co. Ltd., owned by the sixth agricultural division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. It is a paramilitary organization that was revived by the central government in the 1980s to aid the region's construction and development. [Source: Associated Press, July 7, 2014]

In October 2014, 16 coal miners were killed in coal mine collapse in Xinjiang.b23 reported: Another 11 miners were injured in the disaster, which struck just before midnight Friday in Tiechanggou township outside of Urumqi. Thirty-three miners were in the shaft when the accident occurred, six of whom were brought out by rescuers, said an official with the State Administration of Work Safety. The official said that all of the injured were in stable condition and that the cause of the cave-in was under investigation. State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of injured miners sitting up in their hospital beds and describing their experiences to a reporter. [Source: Christopher Bodeen October 25, 2014]

In November 2014, 26 coal miners died in fire sparked by underground tremors in Liaoning province in north China. Associated Press reported: “Another 50 miners were injured in the disaster, which broke out in the complex run by the state-owned Fuxin Coal Corp. Of those, 30 had serious burns, eight were in intensive care and four were still in danger of dying, Xinhua said. “It said a minor earthquake caused sparks that ignited coal dust in the air, causing a blaze that ripped through the shaft shortly after 1 a.m. [Source: Associated Press, November 26, 2014]

Coal Mine Accidents in 2015 and 2016

In November 2015, 20 workers were killed in a fire at a coal mine at Jixi, near border with Russia, in Heilongjiang; 16 other managed to escape, AFP reported: The fire broke out late on Friday evening at a mine operated by the state-owned Heilongjiang Longmay Mining Holding Group. In July rescuers pulled six men from a flooded coal mine in Heilongjiang after they survived a week underground following an accident that killed at least four others, according to state media. [Source: Agence France-Presse, November 21, 2015]

In September 2016, 18 workers were killed in an explosion at a coal mine in Ningxia. AFP reported: The explosion ripped through the colliery in the autonomous region of Ningxia Hui. According to the report rescuers recovered at least 18 bodies from the mine shaft, with two workers still trapped. A total of 200 rescuers and medical staffers worked to rescue the trapped miners.The cause of the accident at the mine, which is operated by Linli Coal Mining company in the city of Shizuishan, is under investigation. In March, nearly 20 workers were killed in a similar incident in the northern province of Shanxi. [Source: AFP, September 27, 2016]

In November 2016, all 33 people trapped underground after an explosion a coal mine Chongqing in southwest China were declared dead after their bodies were found A total of 35 miners were working underground at the privately-owned Jinshangou Coal Mine in Laisu Town in Municipality’s Yongchuan District, when an explosion shook the mine around 11.30 am. PTI reported: While two escaped unharmed, the rest 33 were trapped in the pit following which rescuers had launched an all-out bid to search them. Over 80 rescuers found the bodies in a pit. Preliminary investigations show the mine exceeded its mining boundaries, had insufficient and malfunctioning equipment, poor ventilation and disorderly management. The designed capacity of the mine is 60,000 tonnes of coal every year, according to its license. [Source: PTI November 2, 2016]

In December 2016, the second deadly explosion in a Chinese coal mine in less than a week killed 32 miners, this time in Inner Mongolia. Associated Press reported that 149 of the 181 people working underground at the colliery — operated by Baoma Mining — survived after a gas explosion on Saturday, but the rest died. Yang Huanning, director of the State Administration of Work Safety said that safety officials had been suspended in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, where the mine was located. A covert inspection in Jixi, another coal mining city, uncovered myriad violations of safety regulations among small-scale miners. “Safety supervision should be strengthened,” Yang said. “Any safety risks have to be removed and measures should be taken to stop major accidents from happening again.” [Source: Joseph Hincks, Fortune, December 4, 2016]

Coal Mine Accidents in the 2020s

In September 2020, Sixteen people died at a coal mine in Qijiang district of Chongqing in southwestern China because of excessively high levels of carbon monoxide. Associated Press reported: “A total of 17 people were trapped in the mine, the Chongqing municipal government said on its social media account. One person was taken to a hospital, and the others showed no signs of life, the post said. The official Xinhua News Agency said that burning belts had caused the high level of carbon monoxide. It did not explain what the belts were. The mine belongs to a local energy company, Xinhua said. in December 2020, Eighteen people died after being trapped in a mine in Chongqing, Xinhua said. the region's second such accident in a little over two months.[Source: Associated Press, September 27, 2020; Reuters, December 6, 2020]

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Last updated July 2022

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