A Beautiful End of Rescue Operation

Table of contents

In the last two decades when the world has been plagued by terrorism, violence, war, poverty, disease and natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes, the pictures of the amazing operation of rescue of 33 miners trapped in the copper and gold mine in Copiapo in San Hose, Chile will probably go down as this decade’s best loved story.

Chile is a country in South America where mining for solid mineral resources take place.Earlier in 2010 the nation, which had celebrated 200 years of independence, suffered a devastating earthquake. Not long afterwards on August 5, 2010 the nation was abuzz with the scary news that 33 workers working at San Jose Mine in Copiapo town had been trapped underground. If it turned out that the workers had really been killed, analysts said the event would only go into the record books as the worst mine disaster at that depth of 700 meters below the earth surface. Copiapo in San Hose, Chile inhabited by about 300 people is located in one of the loneliest desert and driest place on earth.Very inaccessible and too inhospitable. To add to the dreary scenario, the workers were buried 700 meters in the mines dark, damp and hot chamber in the bowels of the earth.

It was not possible for the workers to find their way to the earth surface through an escape shaft usually provided in mines. Rocks had blocked it. And, so, the workers became totally trapped. Their ordeal began. They were no longer mining for gold and copper but fighting for their lives. Every minute counted. For seventeen days, no contact was made with the workers. It was assumed they had all died and buried in the mine rubble unceremoniously


Providing able leadership at the nation’s hour of need President Sebastian Pinera moved base from his Santiago headquarters out into the desert of San Jose mine in Copiapo. There, he along with some of his ministers and aides; as well as journalist’s rescuers circus show artists, Chileans miner’s families/relatives and several other sympathizers set up Camp Hope. Meanwhile, attempt to rescue the trapped miners began in top gear. The Chilean national flag of red, yellow and green colour was flying everywhere in Camp Hope Patriotism was thick in the air. With firm resolve, everyone was waiting for the biggest rescue ever of trapped miners in the history of the industry. If the rescue fails, it would be the worst mining disaster in 60 years in the country life.

History of incidence

The Copiapo mining accident occurred on August 5 when the San Jose copper and gold mine collapsed, leaving 33 men trapped deep below ground. The San Jose Mine is about 45 kilometers north of Copiapo, in northern Chile. The miners were trapped at approximately 700 meters (2,300 ft) deep and about 5 kilometers, following the twists and turns of the main entrance shaft, from the mine entrance. The mine had a history of instability that had led to previous accidents, including deaths. Chile has a long tradition in mining, which developed during the 20th century and made the country the world’s top producer of copper. Since 2000, an average of 34 people have died every year in mining accidents in Chile, with a high of 43 in 2008, according to a review of data collected by the state regulatory agency.The mine was owned by Empresa Minera San Esteban, which had a poor safety record and has suffered a series of mishaps, with several workers being killed in recent years. Between 2004 and 2010, the company received 42 fines for breaching safety regulations.

The mine was shut down after an accident in 2007 when relatives of a miner who had died sued company executives but the mine was reopened in 2008, despite failing to comply with all regulations, a matter still under investigation. Chilean copper mine workers are among the highest-paid miners in South America. Although the accident itself has put into question mine safety in Chile, serious accidents in large mines are rare. When the collapse occurred there were two groups of miners. A dust cloud occurred due to the collapse of 700,000 tons of rock at the San Jose mine, blinding many miners for six hours and causing lingering eye irritation and burning. The first group of miners were near or at the entrance of the mine and escaped immediately without incident. The main group of 33 miners was deep inside the mine and included local workers and some subcontracted employees of a different company, who would not normally have been with them.

The miners’ location and fate were unknown for 17 days, until a drill probing for air pockets poked through into a lunchroom where the men were waiting. The miners had listened to the drills approaching for days and had prepared pre-written notes to their rescuers on the surface as well as making sure they had adhesive tape to secure the prepared notes to the drill once its tip poked into their space. The notes surprised the rescuers when they pulled the drill bit out and discovered the letters; the miners having survived longer than anyone had expected. The note read: “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33” (English: “The 33 of us in the shelter are well”). Hours later, cameras sent down the borehole made contact with the miners, taking the first images of the trapped workers. Although the emergency supplies were intended for only two or three days, the miners rationed them to last for 17 days until contact with the surface. They consumed “two little spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk and a biscuit every 48 hours” and a morsel of peach.

They used the batteries of a truck to power their helmet lamps. The synergy of what a determined government, a united people, a positive community and support of science and technology from the international community can together achieve was up for all to see. Pulling out 33 miners alive from 700 meters or 2,000 feet below the earth, 69 days after a rockfall trapped them in the tunnel, in an operation that could have cost over 10 million dollars, will surely go down in human history as nothing short of the triumph of the human spirit.

Helping hands

Following important agencies extended their help for the rescue of Miners:

  • US Space agency NASA
  • Fassi cranes – Italy based crane manufacturer
  • Rescue Operations – Capsule made by Chilean military while winch and pulley built by Australian Company.

In particular shortly after the trapped miners were discovered to be alive and coping, Chile called upon NASA to advise the rescue team on survival in extremely confined spaces. On August 31, a NASA team, including two doctors, a psychologist and an engineer, was reported to have arrived in Santiago to begin consultations. With preliminary estimates for the capsule rescue plan suggesting that it might even take four months to complete, the focus of this Chile-NASA dialogue was to facilitate the development of a programme to help sustain the miners during their isolation. The State Department said the discussions would touch upon whether the U. S. experience with extended space travel, particularly with respect to the International Space Station, could provide Chile with perspectives that could be applied in the context of the miners.

Cranes from Italy-based crane manufacturer Fassi Gru played a key role in the rescue of 33 miners trapped for nearly 10 weeks in Copiapo, Chile Equipment from Italy-based crane manufacturer Fassi Gru played a key role in the rescue of 33 miners trapped for nearly 10 weeks in Copiapo, Chile. Fassi cranes lifted and placed steel pipes that formed the escape tunnel, which was part of one of the most complex rescue operations in mining history. Following weeks of drilling and other preparatory work, removal of the 33 miners, via a narrow bored hole from 700 m underground, began Tuesday 12 October and finished Thursday 14th.US-Chilean drilling company Geotec Boyles Bros. S. A. supplied the F170A Fassi cranes, which had a special configuration to help the operator maintain tighter control of fine movements in critical conditions and to allow the crane to be used for longer. “Everyone involved on site was working against time to bring the mining crew to the surface safely,” said Fassi spokesman Silvio Chiapusso. “We’re pleased that Fassi equipment is contributing to this effort. ” Fassi Gru, through its local dealer Fassi Chile S. A. has been in Chile for more than 15 years.

As three simultaneous rescue operations slowly drill through 2,250 feet of solid rock, the men were receiving detailed instructions on the latest plans to haul them out one by one next month inside a torpedo-shaped rescue capsule dubbed “The Phoenix”. The Chilean military built the capsules (it made three) through which the miners were pulled out from their chamber. The winch and pulley system that hauled them up, however, was built by an Austrian company. NASA, with more than a half-century of experience keeping astronauts healthy, supplied much of the food that was sent down to the trapped workers. The capsule was nicknamed Phoenix. Each was fitted with a camera to monitor its journey into and out of the wide shaft drilled into the entrapped mine chamber underneath.

Another camera was placed in the chamber to pick images of the mine chamber and the entrapped workers. Also, the rescue capsule had a provision for oxygen bottles, oxygen masks, intercom facilities, and escape hatches, granted that there is trouble during rescue operations. The Phoenix which was painted with the colors of the Chilean flag, weighs just under 1,012 pounds, and was equipped with WiFi communications and three oxygen tanks that allow the men to breathe for as long as 90 minutes. The capsule also had two emergency exits for use if the tube becomes wedged in the rescue shaft. In a worst-case scenario, the miner would be able to open the floor of the capsule and lower himself back into the depths of the mine. If the current rescue operations had failed, a Plan D calls for the men to climb ladders for hundreds of feet, a physical task so daunting that a personal trainer had been hired to coach the miners. Once the rescue tunnel was complete, two people – “a miner and a paramedic with rescue training were ready for testing the capsule.

“It was decided to send the paramedic who would administer medications and intravenous hydration to the men. Sedatives may be used if necessary to calm the men before the ride to the surface. Using health charts and interviews, the rescue coordinators were classifying the miners into three groups: the able, the weak and the strong. The miners were evacuated in the order, allowing the first group to serve as a test case for the more critical second group. The fittest men were taken at the end of the operation, which was expected to last nearly two full days. The rescued men were immediately taken to a field hospital. There the men were stabilized, then either kept on site for observation or flown by helicopter to a nearby military base or hospital.

The help provided by US space agency NASA was invaluable. Before the close of October 13, 2010 all the 33 miners had been rescued. The dark, cold mine chamber underneath was empty. Unbelievable, the chamber pregnant with 33 “babies” had put to bed after only 69 days, delivering all of them safely. Each miner was usually welcomed to the earth’s surface with loud jubilation, clapping, cheers and singing of the Chilean national anthem. Thereafter, the capsule cage was opened to reveal him dressed as a miner and wearing a pair of dark glasses to protect him after emerging from the cage, the miner was carried in a stretcher through an inflatable tunnel to an ambulance which took him to a field hospital, also called a triage station, there, doctors check him before he meets with the president, his aides and his family, momentarily. Then, he was flown in a helicopter to Copiano hospital for two days’ observation.

This procedure was strictly adhered to for all the miners. Hence, a BBC reporter on October 14, 2010 described the rescue operation as “a miracle of resilience, hard work, and mathematics” vision from the sun he has not seen for 69-days. What’s marvelous is that the Chileans had demonstrated a can-do spirit that had made it possible to use disasters and emergencies to their advantage for recovery. Now, we hope that not only Chile but also the world will work together to use such a crisis as the mine collapse as a springboard to bring hope and new life to humanity.


Don’t use shortcuts in life, eliminate unsafe acts & unsafe conditions to avoid accidents.

A near miss today could be an accident tomorrow. We have to identify and rectify the unsafe acts, so that the above pyramid is not completed! We all are responsible for eliminating the unsafe acts/unsafe conditions at the workplace!!!

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