Aug 31, 2010 10:01 PM by Alison Haynes

'Unprecedented' challenge to save Chilean miners

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile (AP) - The effort to save 33 men trapped
deep in a Chilean mine is an unprecedented challenge, mining safety
experts said Tuesday. It means months of drilling, then a harrowing
three-hour trip in a cage up a narrow hole carved through solid
If all of that is successful, the freed men will emerge from the
earth and "feel born again," said an American miner who was part
of a group dramatically rescued in 2002 with similar tec 7:0ues.
But that rescue pulled men from a spot only one-tenth as deep.
"They're facing the most unusual rescue that has ever been
dealt with," said Dave Feickert, director of KiaOra, a mine safety
consulting firm in New Zealand that has worked to improve China's
dangerous mines. "Every one of these rescues presents challenging
issues. But this one is unique."
First, engineers must use a 31-ton drill to create a "pilot"
hole from the floor of the Atacama Desert down 2,200 feet (700
meters) to the area in the San Jose mine where the men wait.
Then, the drill must be fitted with a larger bit to carve out a
rescue chimney that will be about 26 inches (66 centimeters) wide -
a task that means guiding the drill through solid rock while
keeping the drill rod from snapping or getting bogged down as it
nears its target.
Finally, the men must be brought up one at a time inside a
specially built cage - a trip that will 5ke three hours each. Just
hauling the men up will itself take more than four days - if there
are no problems.
"Nothing of this magnitude has happened before; it's absolutely
unheard of," said Alex Gryska, a mine rescue manager with the
Canadian government.
Gryska said he is confident Chile's state-run Codelco mining
company, with its vast expertise in the world's top
copper-producing nation, would successfully drill the hole out. But
he said he is worried about the three to four months officials say
it will take to do so - and the key role the miners themselves will
play in their own rescue.
Chilean officials said the miners will have to remove upward of
3,000 tons of rock as it falls into the area where they are
trapped. There is little danger to the men - the area includes a
shelter and about 500 meters (yards) of a shaft outside that. But
as the rock starts to fall a month from now, the men will work in
nonstoll hifts to remove it with wheelbarrows and industrial
"The thing that concerns me is welfare of workers, their mental
state. That will be real tough," said Gryska. "From a health
perspective, it's hot down there. They're talking about working
24/7 in 85 degrees for two months. Their mental state for that work
will be critical."
Early on, Chile's Health Minister Jaime Manalich said at least
five of the men showed signs of depression. But spirits have
improved with a supply of water, food, special clothes to keep them
dry in damp conditions and the first verbal communication with
loved ones this week.
Late Tuesday, the government released another video of the
miners that shows them smiling, shaved and wearing red T-shirts.
The short video, which doesn't appear to have sound, is a stark
contrast to previous videos that pictured the men shirtless and
more subdued, with some getting emotional while recording a message
for loved ones.
Earlier, Chilean officials met with four "life sciences"
specialists from NASA in Santiago.
Michael Duncan, NASA's deputy chief medical officer who is
leading the team in Chile, said his group had been asked to provide
help in nutrition and behavioral health.
Duncan, speaking at a news conference in Santiago, said his team
viewed two videos the miners made of themselves and their
surroundings - and they clearly raised some concern about weight
He said a priority was increasing the miners' caloric intake,
getting them on a regular slirs schedule and ensuring they remain
"These miners showed us tremendous strength in surviving as
long as they did without any contact with the surface," he said.
"What we want to try to avoid is any kind of situation of
hopelessness on the part of the miners."
That could mean increasing their contact with the outside world
- including bringing in celebrities or even astronauts who have
survived long periods of isolation in space, Duncan said.
If the miners remain healthy during their long period
underground and if the drilling goes as planned, they will then
face the ordeal of being stuffed into a tubular, metal cage for
three hours as they are slowly pulled up.
Experts say one of the few times such a technique was used was
when nine U.S. miners were hauled out of the flooded Quecreek Mine
near Somerset, Pennsylvania, in 2002. But those men were trapped
for just three days 73 meters (240 feet) underground.
Quecreek survivor Mark Popernack noted the Chilean miners
"already went through more than what we went through," but the
Somerset, Pennsylvania, resident said no matter the method, "to
come up is the best thing in the world."
"If they make it, if they get that hole drilled, when they come
out of there, they'll feel like they're being born again," said
"Enjoy the ride, that's my advice to them," he said. "It'll
be a long ride, but they'll enjoy it. Because when they see the
light of day, they're going to feel pretty good."


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