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Chilean miners could be trapped until Christmas

24 August 2010

The 33 miners trapped underground in Chile since August 5th have been surviving on tuna, tinned milk and biscuits, they told rescue teams on the surface yesterday. The men have been trapped under ground since the main access tunnel to the San Jose gold and copper mine near the city of Copiapo in Chile collapsed. Rescuers made contact with trapped miners last week by lowering a probe into the mine.

Relatives of Chilean miners after drill machine reaches miners
Relatives of Chilean miners after drill machine reaches miners

But it will take at least four months to complete the rescue and the trapped victims may not escape until Christmas.

The miners are stuck in a mine shaft shelter some 7km into the mine and 700m below the surface. Rescuers are planning to drill a 66cm hole through which they will be able to bring the miners to the surface. A drilling rig of sufficient power is on its way to the mine but the operation is expected to take 120 days.

Two small tunnels have reached the 33 men. The first is being used for emergency supplies and the second, finished this week, is for communications. A third tunnel, still being worked on, will provide additional ventilation. Above ground, doctors and psychological experts are debating how to keep the miners sane during their four month ordeal.

“They had two little spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk and a biscuit every 48 hours,” said a doctor on the rescue team. But officials have put on a brave face by releasing an audio tape of the victims singing Chile's national anthem. The whole crew is reported feeling hungry but well, except for one miner who has a stomach problem.

The miners’ shelter is a living room-sized chamber off one of the mine's lower passages, far from the rock fall that trapped them. It is easily big enough for all 33 men, and they can walk around in tunnels. The temperature is around 34C.

Engineers have reinforced the first six-inch borehole by using a long hose to coat its walls with a metallic gel to decrease the risk of falling rocks. The lubricant also makes it easier to pass down the supply capsules nicknamed ‘palomas’, Spanish for dove.

These packages are about 1.5m long and take about an hour to descend, hold rehydration tablets and a high-energy glucose gel to help the miners begin to recover their digestive systems. Whole food will be sent down in several days, after the men's stomachs have had time to adjust.

The massive drill capable of carving the planned wide tunnel through solid rock will bore at about 65 feet a day. It was donated by the state-owned Codelco copper company and carried on a lorry festooned with Chilean flags.

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