August 23, 2010 / 12:16 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 4-Chile secures lifeline to trapped miners, sends aid

 * Miners in good shape 18 days after cave-in
 * Rescue workers send miners aid down narrow hole
 * Extraction will take months, new shaft to be built
 (Updates with fresh Pinera quote, labor safety revamp)
 By Alonso Soto
 COPIAPO, Chile, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Chilean miners who
survived 18 days after a cave-in received hydration gel and
medication through a narrow drill hole on Monday, but officials
said it could be months before the men are freed.
 In what relatives called a miracle, the miners on Sunday
tied a note to a perforation drill that had bored a shaft the
circumference of a grapefruit to where they are located, 2,300
feet (700 meters) vertically underground. [ID:nN22139760]
 The accident in the small gold and copper mine has turned a
spotlight on mine safety in Chile, the world's No. 1 copper
producer, although accidents are rare at major mines. The
incident is not seen having a significant impact on Chile's
output.
 Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said rescue workers began
sending plastic tubes called "doves" containing glucose
solutions, hydration gels and medicine down to the miners to
keep them alive while they dig a new shaft to extract them --
which could take up to four months.
 The miners haven't been told how long it will take, and
could potentially emerge from the mine at Christmas.
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 Golborne said officials made radio contact with the miners
on Monday and found they were in remarkably good condition and
spirits despite the ordeal, one of the longest periods of time
that trapped miners have survived underground.
 "The wait is very different now," said Elias Barros, 57,
whose brother is among those trapped. "It is a wait free of
anguish. This isn't over, but we are much more hopeful it will
end happily."
 Relatives wrote letters to send down the shaft to the
miners to help boost morale during the long wait ahead.
[ID:N23222575] Golborne said relatives had joked he should send
cold beer down the drill hole.
 Andre Sougarret, manager of state copper giant Codelco's El
Teniente mine, who is heading up the drilling effort, said
engineers would drill two other shafts, one to ensure
ventilation and communication in the coming months, and another
wider one to extract the miners via pulley.
 Engineers are transporting a more powerful drill from
another mine and must decide where to bore the larger hole
without risking further cave-ins at the unstable mine.
Sougarret said it would take three to four months to drill the
extraction hole.
 The miners are 4.5 miles (7 km) inside the winding mine.
They sheltered in a sparse 540-square-foot (50 square metre)
refuge, an area the size of a small apartment, which contains
two long wooden benches, but have now moved out into a tunnel,
Sougarret said, citing ventilation problems.
 WATER, VENTILATION SAVED MINERS
 Tanks of water and ventilation helped the miners to
survive, but they had very limited food supplies. Health
officials estimate they may have lost about 17.5 to 20 pounds
(8 to 9 kg) each.
 Rescuers lowered a television camera down the bore-hole  on
Sunday and some of the miners looked into the lens. Some had
removed their shirts because of the heat in the mine and
officials said they looked better than expected.
 The miners used the batteries of a truck in the mine to
power lights and charge their helmet lamps.
 "The miners are alive, but the job is not done yet,"
President Sebastian Pinera said in the capital Santiago on
Monday, pledging to tighten labor safety regulations.
 Pinera has fired top officials of Chile's mining regulator
and has vowed a major overhaul of the agency in light of the
accident.
 Analysts say the feel-good factor of finding the miners
alive, coupled with the government's hands-on approach, could
help Pinera as he tries to push through changes to mining
royalties that the center-left opposition had shot down.
 As night fell  on Sunday, jubilant relatives of the trapped
miners gathered with rescue workers around bonfires for a
barbecue, celebrating with traditional live music and dance as
a cold fog enveloped the mine head.
 On Sunday night, thousands of Chileans honked their horns
and burst into applause at restaurants when they heard the
news.
 "This was a 17-day nightmare," said 42-year-old miner
Sandro Rojas, whose brother, two cousins and nephew are among
those trapped. "When I see my brother, I'm going to tell him I
love him and smother him with kisses. To be honest, I don't
know if I'll be able to speak I'm so excited."
 The government says the San Jose mine, owned by local
private company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, has
suffered a series of mishaps. Sixteen workers were killed in
recent years.
 The miners' plight has drawn parallels with the story of 16
people who survived more than 72 days in the Andes mountains
after a 1972 plane crash. Their story was later made into the
Hollywood movie "Alive."
 (Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara, Simon Gardner,
Molly Rosbach and Juana Casas; Editing by Stacey Joyce)


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