A Chinese mother has died after becoming trapped following the sudden collapse of an escalator at a shopping mall. The woman fought to push her son out of danger before being swallowed by the mechanism.

The woman’s body was recovered more than four hours later, according to witnesses who posted pictures on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

Rescuers told local newspaper Wuhan Evening News that the victim’s whole body was sucked into the treads of the escalator. Firefighters had to cut up the treads to pull her body out, the newspaper said.

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The accident happened at Anliang Department Store in Jingzhou, Hubei on Sunday.

The 31-year-old mother and her son, who is under three years of age, had just reached the top of an escalator when a metal board adjoining the escalator and the concrete floor subsided, creating a void that threatened to swallow the two, according to a video posted on Weibo.

escalator accident
Photo: 扬子晚报

The mother quickly held up her child, who was pulled out by one of three women standing nearby while she herself fell into the pit. It is thought that the women, wearing uniforms, may have been members of staff from the shopping mall.

The woman who took the child appeared to try pulling out the mother, but it was too late as the mother disappeared under the escalator. Weibo users accused the shopping mall of trying to cover up the accident, which was not reported in the Chinese media until hours after it happened.

escalator horror
Victim’s family. Photo: Kkcake via Weibo
escalator horror
Photo: Kkcake via Weibo

Less than two hours after the accident, a user on Weibo who claimed to be the victim’s sister-in-law, posted pictures of the victim’s family waiting for authorities to pull out her body. The pictures also showed police guarding the accident scene.

Netizens questioned why the escalator did not stop after the victim fell inside. Some also pointed out witnesses should have pushed the emergency button to stop the escalator.

Update: Mall escalator tragedy could have been prevented.

Update: New footage shows moment staff almost fall victim to faulty escalator minutes before mother is killed

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Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.