|Chilean Copper Mine Collapse
See videos and story below
All 33 miners plus 5 rescuers were lifted to safety by 2200 hrs on October 13, 2010, ending the 69+ day ordeal. This disaster occurred on August 5, 2010 at 14:15 (GMT -4:00)
|4-month wait for miracle miners?|
August 24, 2010
It was a remarkable tale of survival from the depths of a collapsed Chilean mine: After more than two weeks of failed rescue efforts, a video camera threaded deep underground captured the first images of 33 miners, all alive and apparently in good health.
The discovery more than 2,000 feet underground sparked jubilant celebrations nationwide Sunday, but it became clear Monday that the miners' 18-day ordeal was far from over.
Government officials said it could take as long as four more months to dig a new tunnel wide enough to lift the miners, one by one, to the surface, meaning they could remain trapped in the San José gold-and-copper mine until Christmas.
Until then, crews will use a thin shaft as an umbilical cord to keep the miners alive, lowering food, water and medicine, and exchanging information about the rescue efforts and carrying communications from family members.
"It will take many weeks for them to reach the light," Health Minister Jaime Manalich said at the scene in Copiapó, in arid northern Chile.
News reports suggested that ventilation shafts had survived the collapse of a tunnel Aug. 5, allowing enough fresh air to reach the chamber where the miners were trapped. The miners were able to use heavy equipment to provide light and charge the batteries of their head lamps, and they drank water from storage tanks to survive.
They stripped off their shirts to endure the stifling heat, and did not appear to be threatened by toxic gases such as methane, which can poison miners after cave-ins.
Food was in short supply, and government officials said the miners may have lost 20 pounds each.
Engineers worked to reinforce the 6-inch-wide bore hole that broke through to the refuge, using a long hose to coat its walls with a metallic gel to decrease the risk of rock falling and blocking the hard-won passage through the unstable mine.
A lubricant makes it easier to pass supplies through in capsules nicknamed "palomas," Spanish for dove. The first of the packages, which are about 5 feet long and take about an hour to descend from the surface, held rehydration tablets and a high-energy glucose gel to help the miners begin to recover their digestive systems.
Rescue teams also sent oxygen down after the miners suggested there was not enough air in stretches of the mine that run below where the main shaft collapsed.
The shelter, a living-room-sized chamber off one of the mine's lower passages, is easily big enough for all 33 men. It is far enough from the landslide to remain intact, and the men can walk around below where the rocks fell. Solid food will be sent down in several days, after the men's stomachs have had time to adjust, said Paola Neuman of the medical rescue service.
Rescuers also sent down questionnaires to determine each man's condition, along with medicine and small microphones to enable them to speak with their families during their long wait. Rescue leader Andre Sougarret said they were organizing the families into small groups to make their talks as orderly as possible.
Meanwhile, an enormous machine with diamond-tipped drills capable of carving a 26-inch-wide tunnel through solid rock and boring at about 65 feet a day was on its way from central Chile to the mine. When completed, the tunnel would be enough to pull the miners to the surface.
Rescue crews unsuccessfully tried several times to drill down to reach the miners before those efforts succeeded Sunday. A video camera captured the blurred, shadowy face of one miner, and a handwritten note in red ink sent back up declared, "We are OK in the refuge, the 33 miners." Video from the dusty scene showed workers cheering and shouting with joy.
Government and rescue officials said doctors and mental-health experts were heading to the site and that questionnaires were being sent down to gauge how the miners were holding up. As a first step in psychiatric counseling, officials asked the miners to identify their natural leader — someone who can make sure the men remain busy and mentally focused.
The miners reported that a shift foreman named Luis Urzua had assumed leadership of the trapped men.
For the miners' families, euphoria and anxiety made for a sleepless night. They shivered through the cold and fog of the Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth and parts of which haven't received a drop of rain since record-keeping began.
"We stayed up all night long hoping for more news," Carolina Godoy said. "They said that new images would appear, so we were up hoping to see them."
The men already have been trapped underground longer than all but a few miners rescued in recent history. Three miners survived 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southern China last year, and two miners in northeastern China were rescued after 23 days in 1983. Few other rescues have taken more than two weeks.
Chile is the world's top copper producer and a leading gold producer, and has some of the world's most advanced mining operations. But the company that owns the mine, San Esteban, and the National Mining and Geology Service have been criticized for an alleged failure to comply with regulations. A blast at the San José mine in 2007 killed three workers.
President Sebastián Piñera said Monday that "there is not going to be any impunity" and said investigations were under way. He fired two executives of Chile's mine-safety regulator soon after the accident.