A Chinese shopping mall and the manufacturers of one of its escalators were to blame for the death of a young mother, investigators say.
The woman narrowly managed to push her son to safety before she fell into the still moving escalator on Sunday.
Investigators concluded that store staff lacked training and should have shut the machinery down earlier.
The incident in Jingzhou, in Hubei province, has sparked widespread anger at the department store.
Xiang Liujuan, 30, was travelling on an upward escalator with her son, and as she stepped onto a metal panel at the top of the escalator, it gave way, catching her and dragging her down.
CCTV footage caught her just managing to save her son before disappearing into the still rolling escalator at the Anliang department store.
Five minutes before the accident, staff members noticed that a panel had become loose, but no proper instructions were given and nobody stopped the escalator, noted the preliminary report.
“The company lacks adequate training of staff on how to deal with emergency escalator situations, and lacks practice, which led to the escalator not being shut down (before the accident),” it said.
The manufacturer, Shenlong Elevator Ltd, was criticised for the design of its product’s metal panels, which investigators said could easily work their way loose.
A preventable tragedy?
CCTV footage reveals that as the young mother travelled on the escalator from the 6th floor to the 7th floor with her son, two staff members were standing at the top of the escalator on the 7th floor, joined by another staff member.
It’s not clear if they knew that there was a problem with the escalator or not or if they gave any warnings.
According to the husband of the victim, there were no signs or any warning at the bottom of the escalator, and only when the mother and son were already reaching the top did the women shout to her about the danger, but it was too late, and his wife was dragged down before they could finish the sentence.
The victim’s son is reported to have witnessed how his mother was “swallowed” by the escalator, and was telling the relatives to save her while the rescue was going on.
Outrage and safety concerns
The death of Xiang Liujuan on what should have been an ordinary shopping trip has sparked outrage, anger and concern on social media.
Many express disbelief at what they see as a totally incompetent response to the emergency situation by the shopping centre, with one netizen asking “what’s happening to China? What are the maintenance staff doing in the shopping mall”?
Others question why these accidents seem to be happening frequently, and lament the avoidable loss of life.
According to a Xinhua report, in July alone, there have been several serious incidents involving lifts and escalators across the country, causing several deaths and serious injuries.
What many find quite shocking is that since the death in Jingzhou, there have been two reported serious incidents.
On 27 July, a one-year-old boy had his left arm caught in the handrail of an escalator in Sun Square, in Guangxi’s Wuzhou City. Reports say the boy might lose his arm.
On the same day, a young woman was killed when she got stuck in the gap between the floor and a goods elevator, in the southern city of Wuxi.
These incidents have put the safety of elevators and escalators once again under the spotlight. Experts point to a variety of concerns, including manufacturing defaults, over use, lack of maintenance and poor inspections.
Now Hubei quality control authorities have issued an urgent instruction to suspend the use of escalators produced by Shen Long Ltd until further notice. They have also ordered a thorough inspection of all the elevators and escalators in service.
As for the victim’s relatives, they say they will not talk about compensation before they get the final results of the investigation and know who is responsible.
The Anliang Department Store and Shenlong Elevator Ltd have yet to respond publicly to the investigation.