San Jose Mine, In Copiapo, Chile: MISION CUMPLIDA VIVA CHILE!!
A real modern day miracleClick thumbnail to view full-size
All 33 Safe: It's a Miracle Say Miners. But now they've survived their two-month ordeal, will they be able to survive the onslaught of Hollywood and the Media??
San Jose Mine Rescue, Near Copiapo, Chile,
It would have to have been an unemotional person indeed who kept dry eyes as he watched the miners being released from the capsule after their long ordeal, and falling into the arms of their families, friends and officials, whom even included the president of Chile.
These 33 miners had been entombed 700 meters under the surface since the mine collapsed between their working area and the entrance to the mine 5 kilometres distant. More follows. (this is ongoing as I write).
This near disaster merely caps a list of hundreds of accidents in mines all over the world, causing the loss of life of many thousands of miners.
The worst accident as regards loss of life was in China, the nation with the worst record in mining losses. This was Benixiho Mine where coal dust accumulated and exploded killing an astonishing 1549 workers. Looking at just one year - 2006 - more than 4,000 miners lost their lives in China.
Disasters in mines have many causes: explosive coal dust being one common cause, poisonous gas leaks like hydrogen sulphide, or explosive leaks like the infamous “firedamp,” (methane), cavern or shaft collapse as in the case of San Jose, floods, mechanical equipment failure, incidents caused by the miner’s own use of dynamite, etc. Chile, on the whole, has a decent record of mine safety, yet several disasters have occurred in the past, the most notable being the tragedy at El Teniente where 355 miners perished.
Europe has no reason for complacency or criticism where mining disasters and management have been concerned. France saw the worst disaster in European history when 1099 miners perished at Courriers; Many were young boys.
The UK has an unenviable record, probably only relieved by the lack of mining in modern times. Thanks to irresponsible drilling into deeper shales in coal mines in Wales and poor safety and management practices, 40 explosions between 1850 and 1930 killed 3,119 miners.
In 2010, despite far better technology, management and safety, there have been 7 serious incidents so far with extensive loss of life: San Jose in Chile makes number 8.
Coming right after what the public in Chile had considered mismanagement of the tsunami and earthquake disasters, the trapped miners were a last straw. Especially when it was made known that the 33 might have been able to escape through ventilation shafts had the necessary ladders been in place to do so.
These hopes soon died as further shifts blocked these shafts as well.
As the entrance tunnels collapsed and were blocked, some of the shift caught on the entrance side of the blockage were able to escape and give the alarm. Of the other half of the shift, consisting of the 33 miners, they were soon seen to be trapped. Later, we were told that the huge dust cloud rising from the falling tunnels had caused some of the miners to be blinded for more than 6 hours.
And so the situation unravelled with engineers on the surface sending down narrow, drilled bore-holes in the hope of finding the miners. The trapped men could hear these efforts but could not communicate until one bore hole broke through the roof of a shaft near the refuge. The miners had cleverly prepared messages to attach to any drill breaking through near them and the famous first contact with the miners arrived, taped to a drill, on August 22, It said: “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33” (“We are all OK and in the refuge, all 33“).
The news had the Chilean nation in an uproar of celebration, and the news soon spread round the world sending reporters rushing to the area from everywhere.
But finding them was one thing; rescuing them from so far under the surface through steel-hard rock, quite another.
The miners were lucky in one respect. Their “refugio” was a sizable chamber 50 square meters in area, fitted with long benches. Moreover, they had “recreation areas” of 2 kilometres of passages where they could walk or even run. How glad they must have been to finally speak to the surface as they had been living on tiny rations for more than two weeks of 2 spoons of tuna, half a peach and one biscuit every 24 hours. They had desperately dug for water and even used the water in radiators of some of the machinery. Now they could get some supplies down the boreholes, including fresh food and water, clothing, phones, cameras and even - eventually - TV!
Offers of professional help came from the US, the UK, Germany and Austria, etc. Plans were discussed and discarded of how to get a man-sized shaft down to the men in order to haul them to the surface.
At first, it was though it might take as much as three months to drill down through the hard rock, and the miners were apprised of this and were said to take the news well. Meanwhile, experts from NASA in the United States had arrived to assist using their special knowledge engendered by similar situation with astronaughts on space stations. There were minor health problems, but the physical and mental condition of these tough, phlegmatic men remained incredible to professionals worrying on the surface.
The plans were finally completed and two drilling rigs began to limber-up. The first was the “Strata” rig, from Strata in Alberta, Canada, which would drill another bore hole which the large US, Schram” drilling platform would follow, enlarging the hole to permit the passage of the capsule. Meanwhile, any miner still overweight was put on a severe diet and exercise regimen. Why? Because the “escape capsule” would only permit men with a 35 inch waist or less to fit inside. (This tubby reporter would have spent the rest of his days down there bewailing his 44-inch girth).
The bore drilled by the Strata drill then became the recipient of the tons of debris drilled by the heavier American Schramm machinery. This all cascaded into the miner’s area below and had to be removed - constantly - by a chain of men in light lifts and barrows. (The dust must have been awful). This finally broke through on October, 9th.
Meanwhile, NASA designed capsules had been hurriedly built by the Chilean Navy and were rushed to the mine head.
A slight hold up was caused by the decision to encase the top part of the bore-hole with steel pipe. This was the part that pushed through the lighter, more unstable shale material and also deviated 11 degrees from the main shaft plunging down to the miners.
The rescue began on October 12 as someone was lowered from the surface to help with procedure below. The first miner accompanied the capsule back to the surface - Florencio Avalos - to the tumultuous applause from his family, friends and, by TV link, to the world. His entry to real life again would have given Bruce Forsythe something to study (In fact, psychiatrists in the UK were saying his high jinks were overdone, po-faced, miserable bastards! I would have like to stick a few of these supercilious twits down there for two months)
Finally, the last miner was winched to the surface last night. October 14/15. He was Luis Urzua. Behind him, came the last 6 helpers, also winched down during the rescue. The president of Chile, Sebastian Pineda stayed to the end welcoming the returning heroes. I can't help wondering if any "First World" leader would have camped by this mine for a week...unlikely. No doubt Pineda has made political capital, but he "walked the walk" as well.
Bravo Chile. What a story, you have animated the rest of the world!.
The San Jose mine is situated on the edge of the Atacama desert, the driest place in the world. It extends some 40,000 square miles in Northern Chile into South Peru. Its extreme dryness is caused by its being trapped between the Andes on one side and the Chilean Coastal Range on the other. The area has, at best, about 1 millimetre of rain per year. Some areas have never seen rainfall in recorded history! Experts say many of the rivers have not seen flow in120,000 years!
The area is sparsely populated in the few oasis areas in the valleys and is dotted by old mines closed during the past three centuries. The desert has a stark beauty reminding visitors of photos of the surface of the moon.