Chile mine rescue enters final phase

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Copiapo (Chile), Oct 12 (IANS/EFE) The rescue of the 33 miners trapped in a mine in northern Chile since Aug 5 will begin at midnight Tuesday, a minister has said.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne expressed satisfaction with the efforts to rescue the workers trapped some 700 metres underground in the San Jose copper and gold mine.

Golborne said Monday a test was performed using the rescue capsule which the miners will board one by one to come up to the surface from a depth of 610 metres.

“The results have been very promising, very positive. The capsule is working very well inside the conduit,” Golborne said. “There is optimism. From the technical point of view, the rescue is proceeding well.”

When the actual rescue begins at 0300 GMT Wednesday, the first occupants of the capsule will be four rescue workers, two miners and two male nurses, who will descend one at a time into the mine to support the extraction of the miners, Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.

The miners endured the longest known underground entrapment ever - more than two months - all the while connected to the world through audio and visual links, DPA reported.

The engineers will lower the 53-cm-wide cage (capsule), specially designed by the Chilean navy, through a shaft that bends and twists into the copper mine.

Side wheels with shock absorbers are intended to prevent the capsule from hitting the walls. The clearance is about five centimetres.

The rescue entered a precarious new phase Sunday, after a powerful drill broke through to an underground chamber where the men will board the escape capsule, said DPA.

The breakthrough Saturday sent a deafening cheer around the makeshift camp of engineers, family members and media at the mine site, bringing life to the isolated Atacama Desert, 800 km north of Santiago.

Sirens wailed and a teacher at a makeshift school clanged the schoolhouse bell for half an hour.

Engineers needed to examine the inside for breakage and cracks, to determine if a pipe lining is needed to shore it up.

Officials said that at least the upper 96 metres of the shaft would be stabilised with steel piping. And engineers built a winch over the shaft to lower and lift the escape capsule.

The 32 Chileans and one Bolivian have been trapped in the rocky depths after a mine shaft collapsed Aug 5.

Health Minister Manalich emphasized that 10 of the men are much weaker than the others, DPA added.

They will be hauled up in three different groups - the strongest and most technical savvy will come first, to iron out glitches in the elevator; the sickest and weakest will come second; the others last.


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