The world celebrates the rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped in one of the longest underground entrapment in human history. No one in recorded history has survived being trapped underground as long as the 33 men, aged between 19 and 63. The international, multi-million dollar effort launched to rescue them was full of risks as no one has ever attempted to bring anyone up from such depths.
It all started on August 5, 2010 when the 33 miners found themselves trapped 700m underground under 635,029 tonnes of rock after the collapse of the upper galleries of the mine blocked the exit of the San Jose copper and gold mine. They had been feared dead until August 22 when knocking was heard on a drill head as it reached inside the mine. Rescuers withdrew the drill to find a note attached to it.
Chile's President Sebastian Pinera holds up a plastic bag containing a message, from Chile miners trapped in a collapsed mine, that reads in Spanish "We are ok in the shelter, the 33 miners" in Copiapo, Chile, Sunday August 22, 2010. The miners have been trapped below the surface of the mine since the main access collapsed on August 5 due to tons of falling rock.
Till their discovery, the miners rationed themselves with a spoonful of canned tuna, a sip of milk and one biscuit every 48 hours for 17 days as they lost all contact with the outside world. They managed to dig for trapped water and collected water from radiators in the vehicles inside the mine.
After their discovery, they were sent hydration gel, soup and medication in rocket-shaped tubes dubbed "palomas," Spanish for carrier pigeons or doves. Along with the food and medicine came razors and shaving cream. Among the items sent were fluorescent lights with timers to simulate night and day. A fiber optic line enabled phone calls and video-conferencing.
From August 30 to September 19, three shafts were drilled simultaneously from different locations. Plan A involved using a conventional drill to dig some 700m directly above the miners' shelter. It stalled after repeatedly veering off course. Plan C was to use a giant oil exploration drill, expected to be the fastest as it only needed to drill 600m. Just like Plan A, it kept veering off course. Plan B was to use an American-made drill normally used to bore water holes. The geology of the region - hard volcanic rock infused with other extremely hard materials - suited this drill best, and it was this drill that broke through to the miners first on October 9, 622m underground.
For a sense of perspective, the distance from surface to shelter is about 4 times the height of the Singapore Flyer. The rescue capsule "Phoenix" picked up miners from the mine workshop which is closer to the surface than the workers' shelter where the miners had been living. The shelter is only about 50 square meters, the size of a HDB living room in Singapore.
Space and drilling experts from a dozen countries joined forces to stage the risky rescue mission. The specially designed capsule "Phoenix" could only hoist one miner up at a time. Before stepping into the capsule, the miners take a high-calorie liquid diet donated by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to keep them from vomiting as the capsule rotates 10 to 12 times through curves in the escape hole.
The rescue capsule, Capsule "Phoenix" is made up of steel mesh and sheets in white, blue and red, Chile's colors. It is only 50 to 60cm in diameter which is just barely enough to fit a man.
The last miner out was Luis Alberto Urzua, 54, the shift foreman credited with helping the trapped miners endure 17 days in isolation before Chileans discovered the men had survived the mine collapse.
"We have done what the entire world was waiting for," he told Chilean President Sebastian Pinera immediately after his rescue. "The 70 days that we fought so hard were not in vain. We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing."
Next post: A tribute to all the 33 miners and people of Chile for supporting them and not giving up!