Trapped In A Collapsed Mine For 69 Days

Trapped In A Collapsed Mine For 69 Days


Suddenly there was a thunderous rumble deep
within the mountain and everything shook. Dirt and rocks the size of a man’s fist
rained down. Amidst choking clouds of dust, they crouched
low and ran for cover. It was every miner’s worst nightmare…a
cave in. Thursday, August 5, 2010 – The day began like
any other for the day shift of miners working at the San José copper and gold mine in the
Atacama Desert 28 miles (45km) north of the city of Copiapó, in northern Chile. However, at about 2 pm local time, the mine
had a massive cave in. A group of miners working near the entrance
escaped, but a second group of 33 miners were trapped 2,300 ft (700 meters) underground. Even worse, there were 3 miles (5 kilometers)
of underground tunnels between them and the entrance of the mine. Soon the whole world was watching as the race
to save the miners folded. Were all 33 miners rescued? For how long were they trapped underground? How did they remain calm while waiting for
help? Working at the San Jose mine was not only
dirty and dangerous, but lonely too. The mine was open around the clock with men
usually working 7 day tours with 12 hour shifts. Most of the miners lived far away, and would
come to stay at rooming houses in Copiapó to work for a period at the mine. While the wages were good, the job carried
the possibility of death. Men had been digging for gold and copper at
the San Jose mine since 1889. The whole mountain was a carved out warren
of pits, canyons and valleys connected by passageways and roads. The central road linking all the tunnels to
the entrance of the mine was called the Ramp. The Ramp zigzagged in a series of winding
switchbacks down through the center of the mine. The men toiled deep in the bowels of the mine
where there was still metal to be found. Geothermal heat radiating from the earth’s
core made the mine hotter the deeper the men went. In addition to the heat, conditions were cramped,
dusty, humid, and dark. The San Jose copper mine was also notorious
for its poor safety record. Owned by the San Esteban Mining Company, the
mine had a history of serious injuries and fatalities dating back many years. Several times the owners paid off victims
or their families and got cases dropped. In 2007 after an accident, Sernageomin, the
Chilean government regulatory body responsible for supervising mining safety standards, ordered
the mine closed. However, less than a year later the mine was
back in operation, having pulled some strings, even though it had not complied with the safety
measures ordered by Sernageomin. About halfway through the day shift on August
5th, an enormous block of diorite, estimated to weigh seven hundred thousand tons, suddenly
broke loose inside the mountain and fell through the layers of the mine, collapsing sections
of the Ramp and other passageways. Miners who were working on different levels
sheltered in place and then headed for the designated shelter once the initial cave in
was over. At the small emergency shelter known as The
Refuge, the miners discovered that all connections to the surface had been lost. The meant the electricity, and the ventilation
and intercom systems were no longer working. 54 year old shift manager Luis Urzúa and
a small group of men went exploring to see if they could find a way to the surface. They were able to make it about a third of
the way up through an evacuation route, only to find that the mining company had once again
cut corners and had not completed the emergency ladder, making it impossible to escape. Furthermore, within about 48 hours another
cave in would completely block the emergency exit route. The miners were stuck. Meanwhile, in the Refuge some of the miners
had started eating cookies and milk from the emergency provisions. Many of them hadn’t eaten since dinner the
night before. Commonly the miners avoided eating before
their shifts to avoid vomiting caused by the brutal work conditions. When the search party returned to the Refuge,
Urzúa counted the miners–they numbered 33 in total, an unusually high number of staff. There happened to be several men working overtime
and actually no one man had met all of the other miners. Urzua took control; he was straightforward
about the dire situation they were in. He took an inventory of the remaining emergency
rations: there was one can of salmon, one can of peaches, one can of peas, eighteen
cans of tuna, 24 litres of milk–8 of which turned out to be spoiled, ninety-three small
packages of cookies, minus a couple packages that had already been eaten, and some expired
medications. There were also ten litres of bottled water. Additionally, there were thousands of litres
of water stored in tanks, but the water was tainted with oil, having been used to cool
industrial machinery. Meanwhile on the surface, rescue responders,
other miners and the miners’ families rushed to the mine location to try to mount a rescue. On August 6th, rescue workers, who were attempting
to reach the Refuge via a ventilation shaft were forced to turn back when a new rock slide
blocked the duct. When the president of Chile Sebastián Piñera
learned of the cave in, he realized that the government would have to take charge of the
situation. The San Esteban Mining Company simply wasn’t
capable of mounting a complex rescue. Against his aides’ advice, on August 7th,
Piñera flew to the mine to meet some of the miners’ families. The president committed to bringing the miners
home, dead or alive, sparing no expense. The government turned to Chile’s largest
mining company, National Copper Corporation of Chile or Codelco, for help. Codelco recommended André Sougarret, a mining
engineer with over 20 years of experience. To help him, Codelco handpicked a team of
experts. The Chilean government also contacted other
governments and mining experts worldwide. Over the next few weeks, various companies
donated equipment, labor and sent consultants and workers to help with the rescue. Also private donations poured in to help cover
the massive cost of the rescue, which by the end reached upward of $20 million USD. When Sougarret arrived on scene, the San Jose
mine site was chaotic. Sougarret quickly established a perimeter,
allowing only professionals in the restricted access area of the mine. A tent city, Campamento Esperanza -Camp Hope-
quickly sprung up just outside the perimeter, populated by the press, miners’ loved ones
and curious onlookers. Nearly every day, Sougarret personally updated
Camp Hope on the rescue, often with the assistance of René Aguilar, a risk expert from Codelco
with a degree in psychology. Sougarret and his team gathered as much information
as possible to fully assess the situation. There was a chance that if the miners had
survived the collapse and followed protocol, they might still be alive. However, the clock was ticking, if the miners
were still alive could the rescuers find them before they perished? Mining engineers begin drilling boreholes
5 inches (12cm) in diameter into the mine to try to locate the miners. This process was as difficult as finding a
needle in a haystack; there weren’t any completely accurate maps for the 121 year
old mine and also drilling technology is imprecise. Drilling down to a target 2,300 (700 meters)
feet deep with a 5% margin of error meant that drills could end up anywhere in a base
area of over 40,000 square feet. As the Refuge was about 530 square feet in
size, the chance that a drill would find it was about 1.25%. Meanwhile, down below the miners were surviving
on minimal rations. Each miner received two cookies, a spoonful
of tuna, and few ounces of milk mixed with water about every 48 hours. Urzua setup a 12-hour shift schedule and used
the headlights of mining trucks to simulate sunlight. The miners established work areas, a sleep
area and a sanitary facility. Tempers frequently flared and the miners went
through periods of hopelessness and lethargy. They itched and stank. Most quickly resorted to wearing as few clothes
as possible because of the heat, but continued to wear their hard hats due to the mine’s
instability. Not long after the cave in, one of the miners
asked Don José Henríquez, a Christian to lead a prayer. Though the miners were of different faiths,
others joined in. Henríquez became known as the Pastor and
began leading the men in daily prayers. The spiritual support helped bring unity and
a sense of calm to the group. The men passed time by sharing stories about
their lives. They began calling themselves Los 33. On August 8th, 3 days after the cave in the
men heard the unmistakable sound of a drill. They were excited, but knew it would take
several days for the drill to reach them. The miners quickly resorted to drinking the
industrial usage water as their supplies dwindled. They dealt with thick, sticky mud as the water
used to limit friction while drilling seeped into their area. They despaired when they heard the sound of
the drill beneath them; the rescuers had missed the Refuge, drilling past it. By now the miners were emancipated and sluggish,
hallucinations and nightmares were frequent; many wrote farewell letters to their families. The rescuers drilled around the clock for
over two weeks. On August 22, a borehole broke through to
a ramp about 66 feet (20 meters) from the Refuge. The miners used a wrench to tap on the drill
bit. Up top, the rescuers thought they heard something
and were excited to find notes attached when they pulled up the drill bit three hours later. One note said “We are well in the shelter,
the 33”. The messages were carefully worded and dated,
a sign that the miners were not disoriented. Making contact with the still alive miners
sparked a celebratory mood throughout Camp Hope and even all of Chile. The rescuers had a daunting task ahead of
them; now that they had found the miners alive, how could they sustain them and get them out
of the mine? The rescuers quickly sent down a probe with
a video camera. Next came a telephone receiver. Then vials of glucose gel. Having consulted scientists from NASA who
had experience in sustaining humans in the hostile environment of space, the rescuers
slowly began to feed the men foods with specific nutrients, gradually increasing portion sizes,
allowing for proper recovery. While the boreholes were being drilled, other
teams of experts had brainstormed and tested various plans for rescue. None of the ventilation or existing evacuation
shafts were considered viable, and they quickly realized that a rescue shaft was going to
have to be drilled. It would be slow going through hard rock–the
extraction shaft could take weeks, if not months. Ultimately, the rescue operation decided to
pursue multiple solutions at once to ensure the best possible outcome. The plans known as A, B, and C employed three
different drilling methods. Plan A was considered more reliable, but was
slowest. Plan B could be rapidly adjusted, but its
technology was unproven. Plan C offered the greatest speed—but less
precision. Over the next 52 days, teams A, B and C worked
in parallel to drill rescue shafts. Plan A used a massive Strata 950 raise borer
drilling rig to drill and widen a circular hole. Plan B used a Schramm Inc. T130XD air core drill which implemented cluster
hammer technology to widen existing boreholes. Plan C employed a RIG-421 oil drilling rig
which drilled a wide escape shaft in a single pass. Meanwhile, experts, including the Chilean
Navy and NASA worked on building and testing a steel rescue capsule for transporting the
miners to the surface. The original borehole was widened so various
items could be sent to the miners. Other boreholes were drilled for ventilation. The miners became active participants in their
rescue. They moved to a new shelter in a less muddy
area and reinforced the ceiling, removing loose rocks. Via phone, Urzua had frequent discussions
with Sougarret regarding the technical aspects of the rescue operation. Newspapers, a palm-size television projector
and gifts were lowered into the mine. The miners learned that they had become worldwide
celebrities. Promises of fame and fortune and ongoing ominous
rumbling from the still shifting mountain exacerbated tensions between the 33 miners. Finally, the Plan B team broke through to
the Refuge on October 9, 2010. Plan A had drilled 85% or 1,962 feet (598
meters) of the required depth and Plan C, which had suffered frequent setbacks had only
drilled 62% or 1220 feet (372) meters. Over the next 2 days, the rescue shaft was
widened and portions of it were quickly encased for reinforcement. Safety tests were run. Finally on October 12, 2010, just before midnight,
the first miner got in the narrow capsule dubbed the Phoenix, and began the slow ascent
up the extraction shaft to the surface. Nearly 20 minutes later, for the first time
in months mine foreman Florencio Ávalos felt the cool breeze of a spring night touch his
face. He arrived on the surface to a cheering crowd,
his eyes shielded by sunglasses for protection, since they were no longer used to bright light. One by one, over the next 24 hours, the miners
were winched to surface as the crowd cheered. President Piñera was on hand to greet each
miner as they arrived. Overwhelmed, the miners happily reunited with
their families. More than a billion TV viewers watched the
rescue proceedings live. In all, the miners were trapped for a record
69 days some 2,300 (700 meters) feet underground. There was a 17 day search to locate the miners,
and then a 52 day rescue, during which the miners had to be sustained and then hauled
up to safety. No one was ever been punished for the disaster. In 2013, after 3 years of investigation, prosecutors
said that there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges against anyone from the San Esteban
Mining Company. The miners have had many problems since their
ordeal. They were exploited by the media. Though they had some counseling, many suffered
PTSD. After a whirlwind overseas tour, many had
trouble reconnecting with family and settling down to ordinary life. The miners felt that they were cheated out
the profits of a movie made about their rescue. Many promised donations and job offers never
materialized. Those of the 33 who wanted to return to mining,
had an especially hard time finding work. There was a stigma against them; mining companies
knew that they had government contacts so they wouldn’t hesitate to call if safety
regulations weren’t being followed. Nearly 10 years on, the San Jose gold and
copper mine remains closed. A small onsite museum displays relics of the
rescue operation, honoring the bravery of the miners and the creative expertise & spirit
of cooperation which succeeded in the miraculous rescue of Los 33. Do you think you could survive a mine cave
in? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
Trapped In A Cave With Water Rising – Thai Cave Rescue! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!”

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  1. Bruh I know I’m 4 weeks late but I saw this on my tv but I can’t add comments on my tv so I immediately went on my phone just to write this- nice

  2. Imagine experience a tragic event that probably gave you PTSD just for people to make fun of it in a comment section of YouTube

  3. laughing
    Worker: WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT!?
    Another worker: So…. we've been trapped for 69 days, right
    Worker: What's your point?
    Other worker: You could say it's so warm, it's chuckles nice
    laughing while choking to death

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