Tue, Aug 24, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Buried Chilean miners found alive

'HAPPY ENDING'Tanks of water and ventilation shafts helped the 33 trapped miners to survive, but health officials estimate they may have lost about 8kg to 9kg

REUTERS , COPIAPO, CHILE

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera holds up a plastic bag containing a message from miners trapped in a collapsed mine in Copiapo, Chile, on Sunday. The message reads in Spanish: “We are OK in the refuge, the 33 miners.”

PHOTO: AP

Rescue workers yesterday 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 said it would take months to dig them out.

In what relatives dubbed a miracle, the miners on Sunday tied a note to a perforation drill that has carved a shaft the size of a grapefruit down to the refuge they are sheltered in 700m 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, though accidents are rare at major mines and the incident is not seen as having a significant impact on the country’s output.

Rescue workers now plan to use the tiny 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.

“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 he hoped to be able to start sending food and supplies down it yesterday morning. He said the next stage was to choose where to drill a larger hole to extract the miners without risking further cave-ins at the unstable mine.

“Our initial estimate is that it will take three to four months [to drill],” Sougarret said.

Tanks of water and ventilation shafts helped the miners to survive, but they had very limited food supplies and health officials estimate they may have lost about 8kg to 9kg each.

Rescuers lowered a television camera down the bore-hole on Sunday and some of the miners looked into the lens. Officials said they looked in better-than-expected condition.

The miners used the batteries of a truck down in the mine to charge their helmet lamps, some of which were shining in the television images.

“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 to the mine on Sunday.

“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.”

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