Wednesday, October 20th 2010 - 03:40 UTC

Miners claim rumblings anticipated collapse but were refused request to leave

A Chilean legislative commission is investigating reports that mining operators ignored danger warnings from a man who was later among 33 later trapped when a mine collapsed.

Phoenix 2, the life saving capsule in exhibition in Santiago

Deputy Carlos Vilches, a commission member, said Tuesday that miner Juan Illanes has alleged that operators refused his request to leave the mine three hours before it collapsed on August 5. Illanes reportedly had heard loud sounds that indicated a collapse could be brewing.

Vilches spoke at the opening in Santiago of a public exhibit of the capsule used in last week's rescue of the miners after 69 days underground, an achievement that served as a rallying point of national pride. The exhibit in the plaza outside Chile's presidential palace is drawing hundreds of people.

Vilches represents Copiapo, the community closest to the San Jose Mine where the collapse occurred. He said he would call Illanes and other miners to testify before the commission about conditions at the mine.

Another worker, Gino Cortez, lost his leg in a smaller collapse inside the San Jose Mine in July.

The mining company's owners and supervisors of the mining operation are under investigation in connection with the earlier accident. A spokesperson for the San Esteban mining company that owns the mine said the firm would have no comment pending possible legal proceedings.

“It's simply incredible that even in the face of the miners' warnings, measures were not taken to prevent the accident, and to ensure that they were not in the mine when the collapse occurred,” said Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter.

The minister oversaw a ceremony opening the exhibit of the Phoenix 2 capsule, which was used to rescue the men. Government employees could view the capsule up close, and even pose next to it for photographs, but the public had to view it from several yards (meters) away.

Painted in the red, white and blue of the Chilean flag, the capsule showed only a few scratches from its multiple trips down and up a tight tunnel to extract the 33 men and their six rescuers.

At least two cities are vying to become the permanent home for that capsule. One is Copiapo, about 50 miles west of the mine. The other is Talcahuano, 1,300 miles south, where officials feel entitled to it because the capsules were built there at a Chilean navy workshop.

Three capsules were assigned for the rescue operation, but only two were used. They were named for the mythological bird reborn from the ashes. The other two capsules were not used but are also to be displayed. One has already been sent to China, where it will be exhibited at the Chilean Pavilion at Expo Shanghai.
 

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