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November 22, 2010

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Man cut free after sea ordeal

A MAN trapped in a steel shaft 18 meters under the sea for more than three days was freed by rescuers from Shanghai and Jiaxing yesterday afternoon.

His 78-hour ordeal began last Thursday while he was working in the steel structure under the sea east of Zhejiang Province's Jiaxing City.

The worker, 43, surnamed Fan and from China's central Hubei Province, was working in a 1 meter diameter steel canister, part of a local power plant's offshore platform, at 9am on Thursday when the upper part of the canister seriously deformed under a sudden increase in pressure caused by a flood tide.

The pressure squeezed the canister like a tin can and left a gap just three to five centimeters wide, according to local media reports.

Fan was working at the bottom of the canister, which joins on to a cement column, when the incident happened.

He had just enough room to sit or stand, but spent most of the time curled up on the cement surface. He had declined to be named earlier because he did not want to worry his elderly parents.

His wife and fellow villagers rushed to the scene, and were able to talk to him and keep his spirits up during his ordeal. Rescuers were able to supply him with oxygen, chocolate, ham, pancakes and milk.

A total of 17 divers, six of them from Shanghai, worked to prevent the canister from further damage and a professional cutting machine was sent from Shanghai to assist in the rescue bid.

A detailed rescue plan to lift the entire shaft from the sea was drafted on Thursday evening after four experts from a body affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University arrived at the scene. Following the plan, divers worked to clear mud from the sea bed and separate the shaft from its cement base.

Fan was reported to have been awake throughout, and talked to rescuers from time to time. A torch and some cigarettes were offered to Fan to boost his morale on Saturday morning, and a heating system had been set up by noon to warm up the canister. "I'm fine down here," Fan told the rescue team. You don't have to worry about me too much, just hurry up."

Fan took "several sips" of liquor provided by rescuers to keep himself warm.

Work to lift the canister took longer than expected because the lifting vessel was delayed by heavy fog and because mud on the sea bed was continually being stirred up by the sea tides, adding to the already difficult task of installing the lifting equipment, the rescue team said.

"We thought we could clear up the mud surrounding the shaft in two hours, but the first action turned out to have lasted eight hours," one diver said.

Rescuers lifted the canister and released Fan at around 2:50 yesterday afternoon. Fan climbed out by himself after the canister was cut open along its side.

He was immediately taken to an emergency ward in a nearby hospital, where he was reunited with his wife who had been anxiously waiting at the scene over the last three days.

His legs are said to have suffered from minor frostbite after being immersed for such a long time in the chilly seawater but overall he was in a "fairly good" condition, local authorities said.


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