Chile Turns to Retrieving Trapped Miners Found Alive Yesterday

Chile set up communication lines and sent medical supplies to 33 miners trapped 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground for more than two weeks, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said.

Rescue teams sent rehydration solutions, medicine and an intercom through the same drill hole used to discover the workers yesterday, Golborne told reporters from the mine site in northern Chile today. The workers are in good health apart from hunger and a lack of oxygen, Andre Sougarret, leader of the rescue effort, told Chile’s TVN television channel.

State-owned Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, is sending a drill to bore a hole in the rock large enough for the miners to escape from the refuge where they took shelter after a tunnel collapsed on Aug. 5. Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said the government and mining experts will discuss how to speed up the rescue, which may take four months.

The workers at the mine, owned by Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, have yet to be told how long the rescue attempt may take, Sougarret said. Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera made visual contact with the miners today through a multimedia device, according to the government website.

The mine site doesn’t have any escape tunnels, meaning rescuers will have to bore 700 meters underground to lift the miners out, Golborne said. The refuge covers an area of 50 square meters, TVN said,

The miners were fed glucose-based solutions to test their stamina before being given food, according to a statement on the website of Chile’s health ministry.

NASA Contact

Health Minister Jaime Manalich said he was contacted by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration which offered to help advise the miners on how to overcome conditions that may be similar to what astronauts experience in space, he told television channel Canal 13.

Images of some of the trapped men were shown on television news programs last night after rescuers made the first contact with them since the collapse at the San Jose copper and gold mine in Chile’s northern Atacama region.

“The whole of Chile is crying with joy and emotion,” Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera said in televised remarks while holding up a letter from the miners yesterday. “This tells us they are alive, united and waiting to return to the sunlight and their families’ arms.”

Pinera has given a new labor committee three months to recommend an overhaul of Chile’s workforce safety regulations, institutions and practices, he said earlier today in a speech at the presidential palace. Pinera fired the head of the mining regulator on Aug. 11 over the accident.

BHP Assisting

Rescue efforts are being led by mining experts from Codelco. Melbourne-based BHP Billiton Ltd., which operates Escondida, the largest copper mine in the world also located in the Atacama, is participating in the rescue effort.

Most of Chile’s copper production comes from large companies such as Codelco, BHP and Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. Small and medium mines make up less than 5 percent of Chile’s copper output which exceeds 5 million metric tons a year, according to Gustavo Lagos, a professor at the Catholic University’s mining school in Santiago.

The accident comes four months after the country was hit by a magnitude 8.8 earthquake that killed about 500 people and caused an estimated $30 billion in damages and losses.

Pinera dismissed Alejandro Vio, director of Chile’s geological and mining service known as Sernageomin, after the agency allowed the San Jose mine to reopen after being shut down by Vio’s predecessor in 2007.

Authorities will carry out a “profound restructuring” of Sernageomin to improve mining safety in Chile and will punish anyone found responsible for the San Jose collapse, Pinera said Aug. 11.

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