On August 5th, Chilean residents woke up to the grim news that the main shaft of the San Jose gold and silver mine in Northern Chile had collapsed, trapping 33 miners inside. For 17 long days and nights, they awaited anxiously. Just as they were about to give up, came the good news - All 33 were alive!
Surviving on minimal emergency food and water dug from the ground, the 33 men who were huddled together inside the 538sq. meter safety cavern, 2,300ft. below, awaiting rescue, had managed to attach a note to the probe, sent down the collapsed mine.
While this was incredible news, now came the hard part - How to pull them out safely. Despite all the mining expertise in the country, the government is estimating that it will take anywhere between 60 to 120 days before the men can be brought back up - The longest period any human will have spent trapped underground.
While this may be tolerable in normal circumstances, it is a big dilemma in this situation. Not only are the 33 trapped in complete darkness where the temperature ranges from 30-32 degrees Celsius (90-95 degrees Fahrenheit), but also, cramped in a small area. While they do have access to many chambers and ramps and have even converted one distant area into a makeshift bathroom, they are hesitant to venture very far - Partly because the chambers may not be safe and could collapse and also, because walking around with just headlights is a little eerie.
On the positive side, the authorities have been able to drill three bore holes, one for food, one for communication and one for fresh air. Through these, the men have been receiving a steady supply of food, medicine, flashlights, batteries and even a music library and MP3 Player to keep them entertained during the long wait. To keep up their spirits, the officials are recording all soccer matches and plan to send them down with a portable viewing device. Special anti-fungal clothing for the miners is also in the process of being developed.
Most importantly however, they have been able to communicate with their families and were even able to send a video recording that showed they were all in great spirits.
Meanwhile, the Chilean government is doing all it can to speed up the rescue efforts. Thanks to the large number of mines in the country, they have access to the most sophisticated equipment. There are currently two rescue plans being deployed simultaneously - One will bore a hole straight down the 2,300 ft. and create a duct, through which the miners, seated in a rescue basket, will be hauled one at a time.
Just in case that does not work, a back-up rescue plan involves drilling at a different point to a lower depth of about 1,150 ft. However, to get to that duct, the miners will have to walk through dark muddy tunnels, making the escape much more difficult, but not impossible. We wish the miners the best of luck and hope that they will be able to re-unite with their families soon.
Sources: guardian.co.uk, cnn.com,sfexaminer.com,onlykent.com