Engineers and technicians emerged victorious from the San Jose mine today after finishing a 33-day project to drill a half-mile-deep rescue shaft for the Chilean miners who, all going well, will be brought to the surface for a joyful reunion with families tomorrow night.
As the engineers hugged family members and said goodbye to one another, several carried flags for Geotec Boyles Bros. SA, the company that operated the drill. Someone threw company baseball caps and T-shirts to the crowd.
Companies are aiming to capitalize on the global media coverage of the historic rescue effort. The miners have now survived longer below ground than the victims of any other known mine collapse. They will come up through the deepest rescue chute ever drilled. And more than 1,000 reporters, representing every continent, are on hand to document the event.
UPS, the US shipping company, brought a 13-ton drilling tool from Pennsylvania in less than 48 hours. The company boasted of its achievement in a blog post on its Web site. Around the drills themselves, corporate banners join the ubiquitous Chilean flag. Lettering on a pickup truck from a local wiring company reads: "Communicating with the San Jose miners." Steel company Techint has had a camera crew on the scene all week to document the use of the company's tubes in the rescue shaft.
Excitement around the mine rescue has been growing as preparations speed to a close. Welders put a 24-inch steel pipe into the hole early this morning. The main rescue capsule was then lowered almost to the bottom and raised back up.
"Not even dust fell off the walls" of the passage, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told reporters. The capsule wasn't sent all the way down so no one would be tempted to jump in, Golborne said.
So far, the big publicity winners have been Geotec and its equipment manufacturers -- Center Rock Inc. made the drill bit and Schramm Inc. made the truck-mounted drill. The T-130, as the Schramm rig is known, has become a bit of a celebrity. Families chanted and cheered as it left the drilling site today.
"We have had no greater mission" than helping the miners, Schramm said on its Web site.
Precision Drilling Corp., the Canadian company whose rig continues to drill a backup rescue shaft, has been giving updates on its Web site. The company was little known in South America before Chilean authorities contacted it about drilling a large-diameter hole.
The corporate involvement reaches into every aspect of the rescue effort. With plenty of time to fill and, for months, very little to show, Chilean television carried live interviews with the maker of a portable oxygen tank.
As a publicity opportunity, "it's certainly good to get it out there for similar situations or scenarios that are not so extreme," said Ben Morris, who works at Zephyr.
One company keeping a lower profile is Compañia Minera San Esteban Primera, the owner of the San Jose mine, where the miners are trapped. The owners aren't taking calls.