Experts debate lining as rescue shaft nears miners

The tunnel that rescue workers hope will transport 33 trapped Chilean miners to safety is due to be completed some time before dawn tomorrow, meaning the men could begin returning to the surface as early as Monday morning, the country’s mining minister has announced.

Laurence Goldborne told reporters that the drill cutting their 26 inch-wide escape hole is just 100 metres from the cavern where the men have been living since 5 August, when a rock-fall blocked exit routes from the San Jose gold and copper mine near the north-western city of Copiapo.

Once the tunnel is complete, officials will meet to decide how much, if any, of it ought to be lined with a reinforced steel piping that would prevent any structural damage occurring during the long operation that will eventually see the men lifted to safety, one-by-one, in a steel escape capsule.

The San Jose mine is in an earthquake zone some 450 miles north of Santiago, and not all of the rock that the “Plan B” escape shaft has been drilled through is particularly stable. Any earth tremor or other minor disturbance at the wrong time could endanger the lives of men travelling towards the surface.

Mr Goldborne said he is anxious to avoid any accident that would turn the final stages of what has so far been an extraordinarily well-managed rescue effort into a tragedy. A steel lining would dramatically reduce the chances of such an event.

However encasing the entire tunnel would take roughly ten days, further adding to the ordeal of the men who have already been trapped roughly half a mile underground for more than two months, which is more than twice as long as any other human beings who have been stuck underground.

An alternative being considered by Mr Goldborne, which is thought at present to be the most likely option, would see the first 100 metres of the tunnel, which goes through the most geologically-unstable section rock, protected. That would take two days, meaning the rescue would commence in earnest on Monday.

Going ahead without any lining on the rescue tunnel is also a mooted option, though many would see that as an unnecessary risk. “They are all possible alternatives,” Mr Golborne said. “There are risks and benefits we have to think about.”

Once things get underway in earnest, each of the men will be strapped into the rescue capsule in an upright position for the estimated 15-minute journey to the surface. They will wear an oxygen mask, a belt monitoring their vital signs, and a pair of dark glasses to protect their eyes, which could be damaged by exposure to the desert sunlight.

They miners be met at the surface by a medical team, who will first assess their physical condition before walking them to a field hospital where they have each nominated two close family members to be reunited with them. After that, the men will be airlifted to a hospital in Copiapo, the nearest major town, where they will be detained for at least 24 hours.

There is already a huge international media presence in the region, and as many as 3,000 journalists are expected to descend on the mine and surrounding towns over the weekend. To help them cope with the attention, the miners have been receiving media training during what they hope will be the final few days of their captivity.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there