U.S. digs in to rescue Chilean miners

American expertise, equipment pivotal in efforts

FREE AT LAST! Luis Urzua, the last of the 33 miners to be rescued from a collapsed mine near Copapio, Chile, celebrates next to Chilean President Sebastian Pinera Wednesday. The miners were trapped underground for 69 days. (Associated Press)FREE AT LAST! Luis Urzua, the last of the 33 miners to be rescued from a collapsed mine near Copapio, Chile, celebrates next to Chilean President Sebastian Pinera Wednesday. The miners were trapped underground for 69 days. (Associated Press)
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Having survived 69 days underground, the last of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean mine emerged from the bowels of the earth late Wednesday and were reunited with loved ones, capping a grueling, dramatic rescue made possible by a generous supply of U.S. equipment, manpower and ingenuity.

One by one, the miners were hoisted to the surface in an operation that began late Tuesday and transfixed the world.

More than two months after being trapped in the collapsed mine, including more than two weeks during which they were feared dead, the men emerged to hugs, tears and cheers from Chileans.

“Welcome to life,” Chilean President Sebastian Pinera told Victor Segovia, the 15th miner out, according to the Associated Press.

Two Coloradans who had been drilling water wells for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a team of NASA doctors and engineers whose experience with astronauts leaving the pull of gravity played crucial roles in ensuring the rescue.

Osman Araya (right) greets a relative moments after being the sixth miner rescued early Wednesday from a collapsed gold and copper mine near Copiapo, Chile. Thirty-three men were trapped in the mine for 69 days. (Associated Press)

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Osman Araya (right) greets a relative moments after being the sixth miner ... more >

Jeff Hart and Matt Staffel were instructed by their employer, Layne Christensen Co. of Mission Woods, Kan., to drop what they were doing in Afghanistan and head to Chile for a rescue mission. The drillers worked for 33 days straight before they were able to bore down to the trapped men on Saturday.

The first miner out was Florencio Avalos, who emerged from the cramped escape capsule appropriately dubbed Phoenix and hugged his sobbing 7-year-old son, his wife and the Chilean president.

“This rescue operation has been so marvelous, so clean, so emotional that there was no reason not to allow the eyes of the world — which have been watching this operation so closely — to see it,” Mr. Pinera said at a news conference after Mr. Avalos was brought to the surface.

Carlos Mamani, the only Bolivian among the miners, was visited in the hospital by Mr. Pinera and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

The miners were monitored by video on their ride up to freedom in the cramped capsule. They wore dark glasses to protect their eyes from the unfamiliar sunlight and sweaters to ward off the cold.

The men wore oxygen masks, and their vital signs were closely monitored. They were fed a high-calorie liquid diet donated by NASA that is designed to prevent nausea as the capsule traveled up through the curvy escape hole.

The men became trapped when the San Jose copper and gold mine near the northern town of Copiapo, Chile, collapsed on Aug. 5.

Layne’s Latin American affiliate, Geotec Boyles Bros., brought in a Schramm T130 tophead drill about two weeks after the mine collapsed. The drill bits were made by Center Rock Inc. of Berlin, Pa.

“Their mission was to drill a hole. These two have tons of experience … they are the best drillers in the world,” said a woman familiar with the rescue operation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak with the media.

“Jeff [Hart] described the drilling as the hardest thing he had to do,” she added.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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