Chile list suggests which miners should be rescued first and last based on health, character

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chile list says which miners should go first, last

SAN JOSE MINE, Chile — Before 33 trapped Chilean miners can begin their passage to the outside world, still more people will join them down below to make their journey as smooth as it can be.

These men — an elite group of three paramedics with the Chilean navy’s special forces and 13 rescue experts with the state-owned mining company Codelco — will work in shifts during the 48 hours it could take to evaluate the men and strap them into the escape capsule for their 15-20 minute ride to the surface.

And the paramedics will be empowered to change a list, already prepared, that suggests the order of the miners’ rescue.

The list is based on daily examinations of the miners’ physical and mental health and strength of character during more than two months of captivity, Cmdr. Renato Navarro, the Chilean navy’s submarine chief, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The first one up should be someone capable of handling a frightening setback in the narrow shaft, and describing how the next ones up might avoid problems, Navarro said.

“The most able miners will leave first — those who can better describe to the next how they might avoid the potential problems that the capsule might encounter. Then those with illnesses or who suffer from one problem or another. And finally the last to surface are the strongest physically or in terms of their character.”

Navarro would not reveal the list’s suggested order, since it may change before the miners are pulled out if a miner suffers a health setback, and since the paramedics who descend into the mine will ultimately make their own judgment calls. “The paramedics will have the last word,” he said.

Among the most physically fit of the miners is Edison Pena, an athlete who said he has been running 10 kilometers a day down below.

Next come those with chronic illnesses, like Jose Ojeda with diabetes and Jorge Galleguillos with hypertension, and those who are older, like Mario Gomez, the oldest at 63.

Last up will be those considered most capable of handling the anxiety of being left behind as their comrades disappear one by one.

Candidates include the paramedic Yonny Barrios, or Jose Henriquez, who has been leading twice-daily prayer sessions. But many people believe the last miner up will be shift supervisor Luis Urzua, whose disciplined leadership was credited with keeping the men alive on an emergency food supply during their first 17 days without contact from the outside world.

“It could be Urzua, but it’s still not confirmed. The concept of a captain being the last one to abandon ship could be applied,” Navarro acknowledged.

Those who know Urzua are sure he’ll insist on going last.

“He’s going to prefer that his team leaves ahead of him,” said Robinson Marquez, a neighbor and former coworker of Urzua’s who describes him as extremely patient and calm.

“He’s going to make sure that all of the men leave, and leave well,” added Robinson’s wife, Angelica Vicencio, who has led a nightly vigil outside the Urzua home in Copiapo.

“He’s a very good guy — he keeps everybody’s spirits up and is so responsible — he’s going to see this through to the end,” she said.

When the last trapped miner goes up the shaft, two men will be left behind, and then one. Navarro said it will most likely be one of the paramedics, since they are trained to handle even their own medical emergencies, should one arise.

These paramedics — Sgt. Roberto Ros Seguel, Cpl. Patricio Roblero Abarca and Sgt. Cristian Bugueno Olivares — have long experience treating trauma victims, aiding escapes from confined spaces and surviving hostile situations.

“They’re among the best in Chile when it comes to rescues,” Navarro said.

While the “Plan A” and “Plan C” drills have been slowed by efforts to keep them on target, “Plan B” resumed Thursday with fresh drill bits carving through the final 291 feet (89 meters).

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said the “Plan B” shaft should reach the miners’ cavern some 2,000 feet (624 meters) underground by Saturday, or possibly even late Friday, and that the rescue could begin anywhere from two to 10 days later, based on a technical evaluation of the risks involved.

The countdown hinges on whether they use steel piping to line the walls of the shaft. It could reduce the risk of a rock fall or other obstruction jamming the capsule, but inserting straight pipe of half-inch-thick steel through a curved and fractured section of the shaft also risks clogging the hole or knocking rock loose. If sections of the pipe break apart, it could set back the rescue significantly.

Golborne said the finished shaft will be thoroughly examined with a video camera, and only then will engineers decide whether to leave the shaft unreinforced, insert steel part way or encase the entire shaft, a process that would delay the rescue for another 10 days.

“They are all possible alternatives,” Golborne said. “There are risks and benefits we have to think about.”

Associated Press Writer Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.

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