Trapped Chile Miners May Be Free by Weekend, Official Says

October 8th, 2010 by Staff

Source: Bloomberg — The first of Chile’s 33 trapped miners may be free by Oct. 10, more than two months after a mine accident stranded the workers almost half a mile underground, an official aiding the rescue efforts said.

The second of three rescue shafts being drilled has reached a depth of 520 meters (1,700 feet) after a drill bit was changed last night, said Eugenio Eguiguren, international vice president of Geotec Boyles Bros., which is digging the hole. The drill has another 102 meters to go before reaching the men, who have been trapped since an Aug. 5 cave-in at the mine in northern Chile.

Once the drilling rig breaks through 622 meters, which could happen as soon as Oct. 8, rescuers will send down a video camera to determine if the shaft is stable enough to pull out the workers without first casing the walls, Eguiguren said. Installing a casing would take three or four days, he said.

“The deeper it gets, the more complicated things become,” Eguiguren said today in a telephone interview from the company’s Santiago office. “Everything is going well. I think they’ll be getting out this Sunday or Monday.”

The miners were trapped after an access tunnel caved in at Cia. Minera San Esteban Primera SA’s San Jose copper and gold mine in northern Chile’s Atacama region. Companies including BHP Billiton Ltd. have joined the rescue effort and authorities have sought advice on the rescue from countries including Peru, Canada, the U.S. and Australia.

Man-Sized Hole

The miners’ only contact with the outside world has been through small drill holes from which they receive food, water, medicine and games such as dominoes.

The technique of lifting workers from a man-sized hole first proved successful in 1963 after David Fellin and Henry Throne were pulled out of the Sheppton coal mine in Pennsylvania after being trapped for 14 days. A similar rescue effort at a coal mine in Crandall Canyon, Utah, ended in failure after six miners and three rescuers were killed.

“We have to get through this complicated zone,” Andre Sougarret, the chief engineer in charge of rescue operations, said today at a press conference at the mine site. “We have to go meter by meter, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said in televised remarks.

Drilling was stopped earlier today to allow engineers to analyze the final segment to be drilled, he said. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said Oct. 4 the miners could be rescued before he starts a trip to Europe on Oct. 15.

Once officials reach the trapped miners and give the go- ahead to begin rescue operations, a tube 24 inches wide will be lowered down into the hole, which measures 26 inches at its narrowest point, La Tercera newspaper reported today. At 120 meters down, rescuers will have to navigate a sharp angle before the hole drops straight down to where the miners have taken shelter, the newspaper reported.

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