Two people died and three were injured after wading into a cesspool's knee-deep filth in an attempt to retrieve a woman's mobile phone and rescue those who fainted.
The two fatalities were the woman's husband and mother-in-law, a local newspaper reported.
The tragedy unfolded after the young woman in Xinxiang city, Henan, accidentally dropped her brand new phone into a cesspit when she went to the open-pit toilet on Wednesday, according to local newspaper Dahe Daily.
Her husband jumped in to find the 2,000-yuan (HK$2,510) phone but he could not breathe and soon lost consciousness.
Then, the husband's mother jumped in to save him but she, too, soon lost consciousness. In panic, the young woman followed and suffered the same fate.
Seeing his family lying helpless in waste, her father-in-law called to neighbours for help.
When they arrived, the old man also entered the cesspit but could not get out while two neighbours who jumped inside fainted.
“The smell was too strong. I lost consciousness before I could see anything,” said a neighbour.
Other villagers found a rope and tied it on rescuers who, taking turns, pulled six people out of the pit.
The husband and mother-in-law died in hospital while the woman and a neighbour remained in the intensive care unit. The father-in-law was also injured.
The woman and her husband had a one-year-old son.
Villagers said the victims were in the pit – which was knee deep in waste –for no more than five minutes.
A hospital doctor said the victims suffocated.
Villagers said the dead victims had pulses after being pulled out but the ambulance did not arrive for more than an hour.