According to the television report, rescue teams had inserted a pipe into the shaft as part of the rescue effort.

When they took it out, mining equipment had been attached to it in a way that could only have been done by a human being.

Food provisions

Rescue workers were preparing to send a bucket down the narrow hole with food provisions and communication equipment, CCTV said.

At least 3,000 rescuers have been working around the clock to pump water out of the vast Wangjialing coal mine after it was flooded on Sunday.

More than 100 workers were able to escape as the floodwaters rushed in but the rest were trapped underground.

in depth

 

  People and Power: On the coalface
  People and Power: China's miners toil in misery
  Minefield for China coal workers

At the mine itself, relatives waiting for news of their loved ones and survivors told the Reuters news agency that the official toll was too low.

"We sent 10 tramcars down to the pit before the flooding and each car usually carries 44 miners and a driver," a tramcar driver who was working on the day of the accident said.

"Only one car came back up the shaft, plus a few dozen miners who escaped on foot."

If true, nearly 450 people could have been underground at the time of the flood. 

Government officials have said the flood was triggered when workers digging tunnels broke through into an old shaft filled with water.

Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from the Wangjialing mine site, said it would be extremely difficult for rescue teams to reach miners underground.

"The only option, rescuers say, is to get rid of all the water that is flooded there," he said.

Security measures

Our correspondent said the mining company at Wangjialing had been criticised for not taking necessary security measures.

"At the weekend, miners were saying the usual dust produced by digging simply wasn't happening and they could see water seeping in," he said.

"It seems that they did report this to managers but work just went on as before."

The Wangjialing mine was a prominent project belonging to a joint venture between China National Coal Group and Shanxi Coking Coal Group, two of China's larger state-owned firms.

China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, despite efforts to reduce fatalities [Reuters]

China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, despite government efforts to reduce fatalities.

Most accidents are blamed on failure to follow safety rules or lack of required ventilation, fire controls and equipment.

Accidents killed 2,631 coal miners in China last year, down from 6,995 deaths in 2002, the most dangerous year on record, according to the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.

David Faikurt, a mine safety expert and adviser to the Chinese government and coal industry, said the government had introduced regulations to decrease the frequency of accidents.

"Every mining company, once they build a new mine, must have a risk assessment plan before they even start digging the hole," he told Al Jazeera from Beijing on Friday.

"One of the problems is that this is a bit of a desk exercise. There is not a system in place which carries out a risk assessment on a daily basis so that every miner, on every shift, and very supervisor, can be part of it and can be a alert for the kind of situation that developed [at Wangjialing]."