Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Friday, October 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 55° Partly Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Miners implemented disciplined survival plan

Rationing, air purity top priority for trapped workers

Drills work Tuesday on the collapsed San Jose mine, where 33 miners are trapped, in Copiapo, Chile.  (Associated Press)
Drills work Tuesday on the collapsed San Jose mine, where 33 miners are trapped, in Copiapo, Chile. (Associated Press)
Federico Quilodran Associated Press

COPIAPO, Chile – Each of the 33 miners trapped a half-mile underground lived on two spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk, a bite of crackers and a morsel of peaches. Every other day.

They were so careful in eating what was supposed to be a two-day emergency supply that when the outside world finally reached them 17 days after a mine collapse, they still had some food left.

The discipline the men have already shown will be essential during the four months it may take rescuers to dig a hole wide enough to get them out of their shelter. The first communications with the trapped miners, now able to talk through a fixed line with their rescuers above – show how determined they have been to stay alive.

“We heard them with such strength, such spirit, which is a reflection of what for them has been a gigantic fortitude and a very well organized effort,” Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said Tuesday after talking with the miners at length the night before through an intercom system lowered into their underground refuge. “The way that they have rationed the food, just as they’ve performed throughout this crisis, is an example for all of us.”

The miners were plunged into darkness by the Aug. 5 collapse of the main shaft of a gold and silver mine that runs like a corkscrew for more than four miles under a barren mountain in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. They gained contact with the outside world Sunday when rescuers drilled a narrow bore-hole down to their living-room-size shelter after seven failed attempts.

The miners said they have honored the same hierarchy they used on any work shift, following the directions of 54-year-old shift foreman Luis Urzua.

They conserved the use of their helmet lamps, their only source of light other than a handful of vehicles whose engines contaminate the air supply. They fired up a bulldozer to carve into a natural water deposit, but otherwise minimized using the vehicles that contaminate the available air.

The miners can still reach many chambers and access ramps in the lower reaches of the mine, and have used a separate area some distance from their reinforced emergency refuge as their bathroom. But they have mostly stayed in the refuge, where they knew rescuers would try to reach them.

Rescue efforts advanced considerably Tuesday as a third bore-hole prepared to break through to the miners, and a huge machine arrived from central Chile to carve out a tunnel just wide enough for the miners to be pulled out one by one. That machine won’t begin drilling for several days.

Andres Sougarret, the rescue effort’s leader, estimated that it would take three to four months to pull the men out. But Davitt McAteer, a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, called that “perhaps the most conservative model.”

“Twenty-five hundred feet is not a terribly, terribly big hole to drill,” McAteer said. “We ought to be able to get them out in a period of weeks, not months.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.



New health insurance plans available Nov. 1 through Washington Healthplanfinder

 (Photo courtesy WAHBE)
Sponsored

Fall means the onset of the cold and flu season.