Chile secures lifeline to trapped miners

Chile secures lifeline to trapped miners
# 23 August 2010 17:40 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Rescue workers on Monday reinforced a small drill hole to serve as an umbilical cord to 33 miners found alive 17 days after a cave-in in Chile’s far north and say it will take months to dig them out, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
In what relatives called a miracle, the miners on Sunday tied a note to a perforation drill that had bored a shaft the circumference of a grapefruit to the refuge where they are sheltered, 2,300 feet vertically underground.
The accident in the small gold and copper mine has shone a spotlight on mine safety in Chile, the world’s No. 1 copper producer, although accidents are rare at major mines. The incident is not seen having a significant impact on Chile’s output.
Rescue workers now plan to use the bore hole to send plastic tubes containing glucose, hydration gels and food down to the miners to keep them alive while they dig a new shaft to extract them -- which could take up to four months.
"The wait is very different now," said Elias Barros, 57, whose brother is among those trapped. "It is a wait free of anguish. This isn’t over but we are much more hopeful it will end happily."
"What we have to do is to secure this umbilical cord to stay connected with the miners, to keep them alive," said Andre Sougarret, manager of state copper giant Codelco’s El Teniente mine, who is heading up the drilling effort.
He said engineers would coat the sides of the bore-hole and hoped to be able to start sending food and supplies down it on Monday morning. He said the next stage was to make two other shafts, one to ensure ventilation and communication in coming months, and another wider one to extract them through.
Engineers still must decide where to drill the larger hole without risking further cave-ins at the unstable mine.
"Our initial estimate is that it will take three, four months (to drill)," Sougarret said.
The miners are 4.5 miles inside the winding mine. They are sheltered in an area the size of a small apartment.
Tanks of water, water from drilling machines and ventilation shafts helped the miners to survive but they had very limited food supplies. Health officials estimate they may have lost about 17.5 to 20 pounds (8 to 9 kg) each.
Rescuers lowered a television camera down the bore-hole on Sunday and some of the miners looked into the lens. Some had removed their shirts because of the heat in the mine and officials said they looked in better-than-expected condition.
The miners used the batteries of a truck in the mine to power lights in the deposit and charge their helmet lamps.
"It will take time but it doesn’t matter how long it takes to have a happy ending," beaming Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said after flying the mine on Sunday. Pinera has sacked top officials of Chile’s mining regulator and vows a major overhaul of the agency in light of the accident.
As night fell on Sunday, jubilant relatives of the trapped miners gathered with rescue workers around bonfires for a barbecue, celebrating with traditional live music and dance as a cold fog enveloped the mine head.
Thousands of Chileans honked their horns across the country on Sunday night, and burst into applause at restaurants when they heard the news.
"This was a 17-day nightmare," said 42-year-old miner Sandro Rojas, whose brother, two cousins and nephew are among those trapped. "When I see my brother, I’m going to tell him I love him and smother him with kisses. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ll be able to speak I’m so excited."
The government says the San Jose mine, owned by local private company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, has suffered a series of mishaps and 16 workers were killed in recent years.
The miners’ plight has drawn parallels with the story of 16 people who survived more than 72 days in the Andes mountains after a 1972 plane crash. Their story was later made into the Hollywood movie "Alive."