Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Chilean miners rescue: escape capsule begins rescue of trapped men

The 33 trapped Chilean miners are counting down the minutes to their rescue as the NASA-built escape capsule arrives at the rescue platform 622 meters underground.

(Page 2 of 3)



The only media allowed to record them coming out of the shaft will be a government photographer and Chile's state TV channel, whose live broadcast will be delayed by 30 seconds or more to prevent the release of anything unexpected. Photographers and camera operators are on a platform more than 300 feet (90 meters) away.

Skip to next paragraph

The worst technical problem that could happen, rescue coordinator Andre Sougarett told The Associated Press, is that "a rock could fall," potentially jamming the capsule partly up the shaft.

Panic attacks are the rescuers' biggest concern. The miners will not be sedated — they need to be alert in case something goes wrong. If a miner must get out more quickly, rescuers will accelerate the capsule to a maximum 3 meters per second, Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.

The rescue attempt is risky simply because no one else has ever tried to extract miners from such depths, said Davitt McAteer, who directed the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in the Clinton administration. A miner could get claustrophobic and do something to damage the capsule. Or a falling rock could wedge it in the shaft. Or the cable could get hung up. Or the rig that pulls the cable could overheat.

"You can be good and you can be lucky. And they've been good and lucky," McAteer told the AP. "Knock on wood that this luck holds out for the next 33 hours."

Golborne, whose management of the crisis has made him a media star in Chile, said authorities had already thought of everything.

"There is no need to try to start guessing what could go wrong. We have done that job," Golborne said. "We have hundreds of different contingencies."

As for the miners, Manalich said, "It remains a paradox — they're actually much more relaxed than we are."

Rescuers finished reinforcing the top of the 2,041-foot (622-meter) escape shaft Monday, and the 13-foot (four-meter) capsule descended flawlessly in tests. The capsule — the biggest of three built by Chilean navy engineers — was named Phoenix I for the mythical bird that rises from ashes. It is painted in the white, blue and red of the Chilean flag.

The miners were to be closely monitored from the moment they're strapped in the capsule. They were given a high-calorie liquid diet donated by NASA, designed to keep them from vomiting as the rescue capsule rotates 10 to 12 times through curves in the 28-inch-diameter escape hole.

A small video camera is in the escape capsule, trained on each miner's face for panic attacks. The miners will wear oxygen masks and have two-way voice communication.

Their pulse, skin temperature and respiration rate will be constantly measured through a biomonitor around their abdomens. To prevent blood clotting from the quick ascent, they took aspirin and will wear compression socks.

The miners will also wear sweaters because they'll experience a shift in climate from about 90 degrees underground to near freezing on the surface after nightfall. Those coming out during daylight hours will wear sunglasses.

Engineers inserted steel piping at the top of the shaft, which is angled 11 degrees off vertical before plunging like a waterfall. Drillers had to curve the shaft to pass through "virgin" rock, narrowly avoiding collapsed areas and underground open spaces in the overexploited mine, which had operated since 1885.