It is with a heavy heart I am writing this article on the fate of 33 miners trapped in a Gold and Copper mine in San Jose, Chile, since 5th August. It is perhaps due to my affectionate association with a coal mining town and its people for 30 years, that this mining accident hurts me more. Roof collapses are the commonest of mine accidents and thousands of miners have died and continue to die all over the world. It was a roof collapse in this mine too at about 1400 Hrs. on 5th August. Immediately after the cave-in there was no contact with the miners and any information about their survival or welfare. Rescue operations commenced immediately and as the rescue teams used heavy machinery to tunnel and reach the depths another roof collapse took place. Then such heavy activity was suspended and tiny bore holes were being made to send in probes and determine the welfare of the miners. On the 17th day after several such trials, that is on 22nd August at 0715 Hrs. a probe reached the place close to where the 33 miners were taking shelter. The miners wrote a note stating that all 33 of them are fine at this shelter and taped the note to the probe for the rescue team to read. This location was at a depth of 700 metres from the surface and 5 Kms. from the entrance of the mine. On seeing the note, the rescue team first, and then the families of the miners, San Jose, Chile, the mining community of the world and all those feeling sorry for the miners rejoiced at this happy news.
Immediately through a camera a thorough contact was established with the miners. The miners were in a shelter of about 50 square meteres with 2 kilometeres of galleries to move around and a tiny tunnel that was a source of fresh air. It is a miracle that the miners survived for 17 days at such a depth with limited food and water. At the time of the accident they had with them emergency food supplies that would last for three days, but by rationing the food they managed to survive. They drank water from the radiators of underground machinery and from small pits they dug to collect trapped water. All the miners are said to have shed about 8 Kgs. weight. They used the batteries of some underground equipment to light their head lamps as and when required.
As of now two more bore holes are made. Fresh food, water, oxygen and medicines are being supplied through them now. Ample lighting has been ensured. There is regular video conferencing and exchange of letters between the trapped miners and their families and experts to keep the miners in good spirits.
Later today, work will commence at the mine to make an escape shaft. One of the three bore holes made so far will be used as a pilot hole to sink a shaft of about 66 centimetres in diameter to a depth of 702 metres. This operation is expected to take 3 to 4 months. The stranded miners also will have a major role to play in their rescue efforts by clearing the heavy collection of mud and rock that will be falling at the bottom of the shaft. Once the tunneling is complete the shaft may be reinforced and then a cage lowered to bring out one miner after another to the surface. Simultaneously other options are also being considered to rescue the miners. I sincerely hope, wish and pray that each and every miner will survive this dreadful ordeal and happily get reunited with his family. Your best wishes and prayers are required too … please.