Two staff members of a Chinese shopping mall who saw a mother fall into the machinery of a moving escalator almost had the same thing happen to them just minutes earlier, newly released surveillance footage has shown.

The mother, who was with her toddler, managed to save the boy before she plunged into a dark pit created by the sudden collapse of a metal panel at the top of the escalator in the Anliang Department Store in Jingzhou, Hubei on Sunday.

Her body was retrieved about four hours later from machinery underneath the moving stairway after rescuers cut open the treads of the machine, mainland media reports said.

china escalator
Photo: CCTV13 footage.

According to surveillance footage aired on state broadcaster CCTV, two female staff members discovered the metal panel was loose about five minutes before the accident that killed the mother, Xiang Liujuan, 31 – but failed to stop the machine.

In a two-minute video showing the “almost accident”, one of the two staff members can be seen travelling down from the seventh floor to the sixth floor. Upon realising she has forgotten something, she can be seen taking the escalator back up, according to CCTV, while her colleague waits for her at the top, standing on the panel that collapsed minutes later.

YouTube video

When the duo walk away from the escalator, the metal panel tilts up on one side and the pair almost fall through.

Startled, one of them says to the other, “There is a problem, here. (We) almost fell down,” CCTV reported.

While the pair went to notify mall managers, they did not turn off the mechanism.

The footage shows the couple returning to the scene of the accident, with one testing the loose metal panel with her foot. Still, they do not stop off the escalator. Less than a minute later, Xiang and her boy appear and the tragic accident ensues.

According to the footage, the two women point to the loose panel and warn Xiang of the problem when she and her son are halfway up. Xiang then picks up the boy just before they reach the top, handing him to the women as the panel collapses, before slipping to her death. It is not clear why Xiang’s husband remained at the bottom of the escalator instead of riding with them.

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.