Drilling begins on escape route for Chilean miners

A huge drill began digging a planned escape route today as 33 men stuck half a mile (800m) underground in Chile became the longest-trapped miners in recent history.

The men were trapped on August 5 when a landslide blocked the shaft down into the San Jose copper and gold mine in northern Chile's Atacama Desert. Last year, three miners survived 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southern China, and the Chileans passed that mark today.

While doubts and extreme challenges remain, experts said the rescuers have the tools to get the job done -although the government still says it will take three to four months to reach the miners.

"The drill operators have the best equipment available internationally," said Dave Feickert, director of KiaOra, a mine safety consulting firm in New Zealand which has worked extensively with China's government to improve dangerous mines there.

"This doesn't mean it will be easy," he added. "They are likely to run into some technical problems that may slow them down."

The 31-ton drill made a shallow, preliminary test hole today in the solid rock it must bore through, the first step in the week-long digging of a "pilot hole" to guide the way for the rescue.

Later the drill will be fitted with larger bits to gradually expand the hole and make it big enough for the men to be pulled out one by one.

Before rescuers dug small bore holes down to the miners' emergency shelter, the men survived 17 days without contact with the outside world by rationing a 48-hour supply of food and digging for water in the ground.

Apart from their rescue, a union leader has expressed concern for the men's livelihoods.

San Esteban, the company that operates the mine, has said it has no money to pay their wages and absorb lawsuits, and is not even participating in the rescue. State-run mining company Codelco has taken over.

Union leader Evelyn Olmos called on the government to pay the workers' wages starting in September, plus cover the roughly 100 other people at the mine who are now out of work and 170 more who work elsewhere for San Esteban. Its licence has been suspended by the government.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said the government was prohibited by labour laws from assuming responsibility for the salaries. He said it was up to the mining company and would have to be worked out in Chilean courts.

Mr Golborne noted the extraordinary circumstances of the mine collapse but pointed out that there are many other Chileans who lack a job and said the government cannot be responsible for all of them.

Union leaders and others blame the government in part for the San Jose accident because the mine had been cited for safety violations in the past but was allowed to continue operating.

In 2007, executives were charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a miner. The worker's family settled and the mine was closed until it could comply with safety rules, said Senator Baldo Prokurica, who has long called for tougher regulations.

The next year, the mine reopened even though the company apparently had not complied with all the regulations, he said, adding that the circumstances surrounding the reopening are being investigated.

Workers in the current rescue operation are using the three existing bore holes to deliver food, water, air and medicine to the 33 miners, who are trapped about 2,200ft (670m) underground in a shelter large enough to walk around in.

In an eight-minute video released by the government, the second made by the trapped miners, about a dozen of the men sent greetings to their families and said they were feeling better since receiving the sustenance and supplies, including special clothes to keep them dry in the hot, humid mine.

The government said last week that five of the miners were suffering from depression, but Mr Golborne said from the mine site on Sunday that those men were doing better, had received antidepressants and were getting counselling.

Helping raise their spirits, the men spoke for about three minutes each to a family member on Sunday after a telephone line was lowered down one of the three existing 6in (15cm) bore holes.

The men, while showing courage that has inspired people throughout Chile and the world, could not help but break down when speaking about their loved ones on the latest video.

"I'm sending my greetings to Angelica. I love you so much, darling," said 30-year-old Osman Araya, as his voice choked and he began to cry. "Tell my mother, I love you guys so much. I'll never leave you. I will fight to the end to be with you."

The video showed the men mostly upbeat, joking on camera and talking about their absolute certainty that they would get out alive.

Experts say maintaining high morale among the men is essential. They will play a key role in winning their own rescue: the drilling technique that must be used means that up to 4,000 tons of rock and debris will fall down into a large mine shaft near the shelter - but far enough away from the men that they will not be in any danger.

Officials have said it is essential the men be at their best physically and mentally because their own work clearing the rocks will be vital to keeping their eventual escape route from becoming plugged.



Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
The RBS Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Ireland vs England
rugby
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?