Guo Shitun did not close his eyes for three days in case he put the lives of 68 other miners in danger.
The 40-year-old safety inspector and dozens of colleagues, who were rescued from a flooded coal mine in central China's Henan Province on Wednesday, had been trapped underground for 76 hours, where they experienced cold, hunger and panic.
"As the only safety inspector, I had to always keep my eyes open and my mind clear in order to monitor the water level and gas density," said Guo from his bed in the Yellow River Hospital in Sanmenxia City.
"Besides, a few other team leaders and I had to reassure the other miners, some of whom were in tears, that everything would be okay even though I myself had no idea whether we could be saved," he recalled.
The flooding occurred at around 8:40 AM on Sunday at the Zhijian coal mine in Sanmenxia's Shanxian County, about 200 kilometers west of Zhengzhou, capital of Henan, when 102 miners were working underground. Thirty-three managed to escape.
"We gathered about 30 steamed buns and cakes brought by some miners and locked them into a small iron box, agreeing that no one should eat them unless the last moment came," he said.
Each miner got half a piece of steamed bun or cake in the early afternoon on the second day, when all of them could no longer stand the hunger, he said.
"We had also brought 69 safety lamps and in order to keep the light on underground, we only used six at a time because one lamp can only last eight hours," he said.
Rescuers said that the miners trapped underground were lucky the ventilation and communication facilities had remained undamaged.
"Yes, everyone knew we could be saved because the telephone line wasn't broken. If it had been, we would be dead for sure," said 32-year-old miner Yang Wanjun.
"We had five leaders underground in charge of organizing rescue efforts and we were confident that we would survive," he said.
Through the telephone, the miners asked for food and drinking water in the afternoon on the second day. Rescue workers then managed to pour hundreds of liters of milk, noodle soup, and salt water into an 800-meter-long ventilation pipe. The miners used their helmets to catch the fluid.
"The ringing of the telephone was our life link. The people above ground called us from time to time, telling us they were going all out to save us," said Hou Haifeng, 22, the youngest of the miners.
"I even talked to my wife twice through the telephone. I told her I was OK but actually I felt very sad at the time," said the young man, who had just been reunited with his six-month-old daughter.
"We comforted each other while we were trapped underground. We said we would live or die together," he recounted.
The 69 miners were eventually all pulled out alive on Wednesday after more than three days. The deed was hailed as "one of the most successful rescue operations in recent years" by Li Yizhong, head of the State Administration of Work Safety.
(Xinhua News Agency August 3, 2007)