Monday, October 11, 2010

When will the trapped miners in Chile - Sunlight - Good wishes to them

It was with great concern, I had written earlier about the plight of those miners trapped in Chile. Quite unfortunately, on Aug 5, 2010, the roof of San Jose copper gold mine in Chile collapsed leaving 33 miners trapped at approx 700 metres / 2300 ft below the ground. The San Jose mine is about 45 km north of Copiapo and the miners are struck 5 kms away from the mine entrance.
One shudders to think of those miners inside, who are living underground without seeing the sunlight but carrying on with great expectations. The efforts of the Management as also the Govt. of Chile is commendable. Initially there was pessimism as when such accidents occur, it is close to certain death. But these miners have steely resolve and are living to see another day. They were able to establish contact with the outside world 17 days after they were trapped, when hopes were slowly getting vanished. Immediately thereafter, came the starting revelation that it would take as long as four months to dig a new tunnel wide enough to life the miners to the surface. 4 months – most likely that they would surface only by the next year 2011. The positive note was that food, water and medicine could reach them in the meantime through reinforced bore hole and in capsules nicknamed ‘palomas’. The whole Nation erupted with joy when a note from the miner was received at ground zero. Till the receipt of supplies, the miners bravely had rationed the limited food, surviving consuming two mouthful of tuna and half a glass of milk every 48 hours.


A 63 year old man was identified to be the leader of the miners going by the way he exuded confidence and optimism in his letter to his dear wife. Now it is more than 2 months and they are still living a chequered life, half a mile underground in scorching desert. The Rescue Engineers have now sounded a positive note hoping to reach them shortly. BBC has been covering the anxious story of trapped miners with beautiful illustrative graphics. BBC reports that the drill had only 160m (524ft) further to go to reach the men. Mr Buttazzoni, the head of the Chilean mining company Geotec, said his drill had already cut through 464m (1,500ft) of rock.


Three efforts were organized to drill holes that could accommodate a rescue capsule. Known as Plans A, B, and C, they proceeded simultaneously. It was Plan B that was on the verge of breaking through to the trapped men on Friday, at a spot more than 2,050 feet below the surface — roughly twice as deep as the Empire State Building is tall.


Earlier the strategy was to encase the rescue tunnel with metal, a process that could take several days but now the possibility of bringing miners to the surface without doing that is being debated upon. The timeline has shortened dramatically as the three drills racing to reach the miners had made rapid progress. The President of the Chile, Sebastian Pinera has been a great motivator and his involvement is also one of the reasons for rapid progress.

A Sports physician who is in daily contact with the miners had voiced to BBC that the miners were cheerful. Once the tunnelling process is over, specially made steel capsules would be lowered down and possibly navy commandos would go down to assess the situation. The strong minded miners are reportedly sending prized possessions and mementoes to the surface using small capsules called ‘doves’
The sordid tale is that other workers employed at the mine staged a protest on the surface complaining that they have not been paid since the accident. The Company running the mine has large debts, faces lawsuits from the relatives of the trapped men and is in bad shape.

Though the distance has shrunk, the operation perhaps is in the most dangerous phase. At some point of time, the miners themselves may have to set off a dynamite to widen the hole at their end so that the rescue capsule named Phoenix has enough room. The loose rocks should fall in to the shaft and damage or block the capsule. The rescue hole is a little more than 2 feet wide and can carry one man at a time. It is very unusual and the whole World is looking at the rescue operations with care and concern. Meantime the trapped miners have been keeping their weight under control to easily fit inside the capsule built with suggestions from NASA.

Once the drill breaks through, a camera will be sent down to evaluate the hole which will initiate the process of rescue. The trapped miners are being divided into categories depending on their physical condition and mental strength. As we hope the mission to succeed, it would take around 12 minutes for one trip. Once at the surface, the miners will receive wrap-around sunglass used by mountain climbers and surfers to protect against sudden exposure to the bright sun, and then be treated for first aid on site before being whisked by helicopters to a nearby hospital.

The passionate and zealous efforts of President Sebastian Pinera and his Govt which has pooled enough resources, technology and consultation definitely deserved to be complimented. But for many family members, with the uncertainty to come, the end still seems far away. We also join those praying for the rescue and wish the miners and the families safe reunion at the earliest


Regards – Sampathkumar S
PS: The source of the graphics and news items is bbc.co.uk.

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