Excessive pressure on the hammer of the T-130 drill – perforating the so-called “Plan B” escape hole –prompted engineers to stop drilling and change the hammer Monday night at the San José mine in northern Chile, where 33 miners are trapped 700 meters underground.
The engineers also decided to reduce the diameter of the hole from 28 inches to 26 inches. This will enable the drill to pass a curve in the tunnel without wearing away the hammer prior to the final stage of drilling.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said he hoped the miners were out before his scheduled trip to Europe, where he is expected to participate in several official activities beginning Oct. 18.
“We are trying to accommodate the two schedules because they are both important things,” the president said.
As a result, local and international press are speculating that the rescue is just days away. Rescue officials have said it could be in fact in the very near future, should they decide to skip certain steps.
André Sougarett, head of the rescue at San José, insisted that safety is the priority. Although there is a strong desire to get the miners out quickly, the final stage of the rescue will be the most dangerous. The rescue timetable could ultimately be reduced by four to eight days if engineers decide against encasing the finished shaft.
“There is the option of encasing the entire hole, or just one section, or leaving the tunnel as live rock” Sougarret said.
“Each option has different risks, and we will evaluate them once the drill breaks into the underground workshop [where the miners have access] so we can properly analyze the situation.”
In preparation for their rescue, the miners have been exercising and are being taught how to use oxygen masks. They will be separated and brought to the surface in three different groups.
The first group of miners to emerge will most likely be those with some training and who can handle the difficulty of the rescue effort without the aid of oxygen. The next group will consist of older miners who will require oxygen. And the third group will be miners in the best physical condition.
“Once the rescue begins, a miner should surface every 60 minutes,” said Health Minister Jamie Mañalich. “Then each miner will be transferred to the field hospital for an initial checkup.”
From there, miners will reunite with relatives before being transferred to the hospital in Copiapó, where they will remain for at least two days. Miners will be tested for permanent eye and lung damage from prolonged exposure to particle matter underground.
“The miners could suffer adjustment problems after their rescue,” said Anamaría Gazmuri, a psychiatrist from the Faculty of Medicine at Universidad Andrés Bello. “These problems will likely depend on the age and personality of each miner. They could manifest themselves as anxiety disorders, mild depression, phobia of darkness, or not wanting to work in a mine.”
Gazmuri said that instead of feeling sick, many of the miners should see themselves as heroes and patriots, which could strengthen this adjustment.
The Plan B drill has advanced two meters, and reached a depth of 466 meters. The Plan A drill is at a standstill at 587 meters deep, but is expected to resume drilling Thursday. The Plan C drill is at 265 meters. Engineers are expected to take measurements again to see if it has remained on course.
By Dominique Farrell – Santiago Times