Chile Miners’ Rescue

Channel 4 News: covering the Chile miners

After almost 70 days trapped half a mile underground, the ordeal for 33 trapped miners is set to end as the delicate rescue attempt begins

Rescue workers help as a colleague leaves a capsule after performing a dry run test for the eventual rescue of the 33 miners trapped at the San Jose mine, near Copiapo, Chile, Monday, Oct. 11, 2010.

Using a custom-built rescue capsule, designed through a joint collaboration by NASA engineers and the Chilean navy, rescue workers will ferry 33 miners to the surface -- 68 days after the men were trapped in a dark, humid, copper-gold mine.

Here's a look at exactly what the rescue capsule is and how it will work.

On Monday, the Phoenix I capsule -- the biggest of three built by Chilean navy engineers -- made its first test runs. Named after the mythic bird that rose from its ashes, the Phoenix capsule is designed to ferry the men one at a time up a narrow shaft lined with steel pipe. Chilean mining minister Laurence Golborne said the capsule weighs 924 pounds (420 kilograms) and its interior height is 6 feet, 4 inches (1.9 meters).

The empty capsule is lowered via a winch 2,000 feet (610 meters) into the mine, just 40 feet (12 meters) short of the shaft bottom that has been the miners' refuge since the August 5 collapse. The men will each take an individual, twisting 20-minute ride back to the surface. It should take about an hour for the rescue capsule to make a round trip, Chilean deputy mining minister Rene Aguilar told The Associated Press.

"We didn't send it (all the way) down because we could risk that someone will jump in," a grinning Golborne told reporters.

The hi-tech capsule, painted in the red, white and blue colors of the Chilean flag, will be equipped with an oxygen supply, communications equipment, retractable wheels to help it travel up and down the rescue shaft and an escape hatch in case anything goes wrong. The exterior wheels will help it slide down the borehole as it is lowered by a massive crane mounted on a nearby hillside.

The rescuers finished reinforcing the escape shaft early Monday and the 13-foot (4-meter) tall rescue chamber descended flawlessly nearly all the way to the trapped men in a series of test runs.

Golborne told reporters that "the capsule handles well inside the duct and adapts well both inside the metal tubes and the rock."

At this late date some of the key points about the Chilean miners' rescue operation remain uncertain.

1. Timing. Government officials said earlier the rescue would begin at midnight local time Tuesday (11 pm Eastern). Part of the reason was concern for the miners exposure to bright sunlight after two months underground. Later reports said the rescue would begin at dawn to allow the helicopters to fly the miners to a local hospital. Recent radio reports say it could now begin anytime between 7pm-midnight local.

The Chilean government has often done things ahead of schedule: setting expectations then beating them. This could happen again with the rescue start.

2. Who will come out first. The government reportedly has a list of the first four miners who will come out, but the list is being kept secret. There is also a battle for who will come out last, with several vying for the honor. The final determination of the order is likely to be made by a Navy medic who goes down into the mine.

3. What we will see. There will be a live government T.V. feed of the rescue operation and a platform set up for the world media, yet there is likely to be a screen that blocks the miners from view. They could even be taken through an inflatable tunnel directly into ambulances. The miners themselves have requested time for privacy with family. Yet, if the operation is a success there will be great pressure for at least a brief appearance before the cameras.

Chile's operation to winch 33 trapped miners to safety will begin at midnight local time tomorrow (3am GMT Wednesday), officials said, after engineers tested a specially designed escape capsule.

Mining minister Laurence Golborne said miners would start being individually evacuated 68 days after the collapse of part of the gold and copper mine in the Atacama desert.

Earlier, rescuers completed lining a segment of a shaft through which the miners will be brought to safety. Engineers worked through the night to lay 96 metres of sheet metal at the top of the 622-metre tunnel, finishing at 3am local time, prompting cheers and shouts of "Viva Chile!". Test-runs of the rescue capsule, dubbed "the phoenix", were undertaken this morning, Golborne said.

President Sebastián Piñera is due to visit the site accompanied by his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales, who has requested attendance because one of the trapped men is Bolivian.

Rescuers said they would resume drilling a separate shaft as a back-up plan in case of problems with the first one. On its journey to the surface, the capsule will have to twist up to a dozen times through curves of 28-inch (78cm) diameter.

Video inspections showed the shaft's lower walls to be firm, smooth rock, eliminating the need to line them, which would have taken days and risked blockages.

The health minister, Jaime Manalich, said that at least two rescuers, including a paramedic, would be winched down to prepare the men for a fraught, claustrophobic journey that could take between 10 and 40 minutes.

Authorities wanted the most stable miners to go up first, he said. "They have to be psychologically mature, have a great deal of mining experience and be able to handle a quick training on how to use the harness and oxygen mask in the phoenix capsule."

A few had volunteered to go up first and several expressed a desire to go last in "a completely admirable show of solidarity", said the minister. One motive to be last, however, is a guaranteed place in the Guinness World Records for the longest time a miner has ever been trapped underground. Given the complexities of the current situation, it is a record that many expect to be insurmountable.

The men will be given green waterproof suits designed to let their skin breathe as they ascend, and at the top they will receive a pair of Oakley Radar sunglasses to shield them from sunlight before beginning a 48-hour evaluation of their physical and mental health.

The list is subject to change once the two paramedics who will descend into the chamber have themselves assessed the men. The list has been drawn up on the basis of detailed monitoring of physical fitness levels - heart rates, blood pressure and other vital signs - as well as mental condition, age and experience.

1 Avalos Silva, Florencio
2 Sepulveda Espinace, Mario
3 Illanes Palma, Juan
4 Mamani Solis, Carlos
5 Sanchez Laguez, Jimmy
6 Araya Araya, Osman
7 Ojeda Vidal, José
8 Yañez Lagos, Claudio
9 Gomez Heredia, Mario
10 Vega Salazar, Alex
11 Galleguillos Orellana, Jorge
12 Peña Villarroel, Edison
13 Barrios Contreras, Carlos
14 Zamora Bugueño, Victor
15 Segovia Rojas, Victor
16 Herrera Campos, Daniel
17 Reygadas Rojas, Omar
18 Rojas Carrizo, Esteban
19 Rojas Villacorta, Pablo
20 Segovia Rojo, Darío
21 Barrios Rojas, Yonny
22 Avalos Acuña, Samuel
23 Bugueño Alfaro, Carlos
24 Henriquez Gonzalez, José
25 Avalos Silva, Renán
26 Acuña Cortés, Claudio
27 Lobos Ramirez, Franklin
28 Villarroel Godoy, Richard
29 Aguilar Gaete Juan, Carlos
30 Bustos Ibañez, Raul
31 Cortez Contreras, Pedro
32 Ticona Yañez, Ariel
33 Urzúa Iribarren, Luis


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