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article imageTrapped miners: Capsule test successful, rescue starts tonight

By Igor I. Solar     Oct 12, 2010 in World
Santiago - Following a successful test of the rescue capsule, lifting of the 33 miners to the surface is expected to start at midnight tonight or perhaps even sooner. They have been trapped at the San José mine following a cave-in since August 5.
Yesterday, at 5.00 pm was carried out the "test of details" of the capsule “Phoenix 1” through the duct which was jacketed with a metal pipe in the first 56 meters, as protection against possible landslides. The capsule was tested under load and traveled 610 m of the nearly vertical perforation. It carried a camera and a monitor that measured the level of oxygen along the shaft. The conclusion was that the capsule performed satisfactorily, the shaft was stable and secure, and that the miners will have no problems with air quality.
"The results were very promising, very positive, the capsule behaved very well in the pipeline. It fits fine, there is no wobble or rock fall," said Laurence Golborne, Chilean Minister of Mining.
The test solved one of the biggest challenges, because until now nobody knew exactly how the capsule would behave along the length of the tube.
"We hope to start the rescue process at zero hours on Wednesday," said Golborne. However, there is a possibility that the rescue may be initiated a few hours earlier. "If we can start earlier would be wonderful, but we must take the necessary time to ensure that our plans end in a safe rescue," said Minister Golborne. Chilean president Sebastián Piñera is expected to be at the mine at the time the first miner is brought to the surface.
There is no preference about starting the rescue operation during daylight hours or at night. It is estimated the whole process could take as long as 48 hours. However, some government sources claim that the total evacuation of the miners could last less than 24 hours, and if there are no setbacks, may be completed in only 18 hours.
A team of 4 rescuers, including 2 mine safety experts and 2 medical Navy personnel will be initially sent to the location where the miners have built a platform where the rescue capsule will stand. These rescue teams will work underground in 12-hour shifts assisting the miners into the capsule. The miners will wear a special suit and their vital signs will be monitored during the lifting process.
Workers prepare the rescue capsule that will bring the 33 trapped miners to the surface. It was desi...
Workers prepare the rescue capsule that will bring the 33 trapped miners to the surface. It was designed and built by Chilean Navy engineers and painted with the colours of the Chilean flag. Courtesy of Diario Atacama.
Diario Atacama
The workers will be removed one by one in the metal capsule, most likely the "Phoenix 2" which is a bit shorter than the model tested and is expected to be less prone to cause trouble. The lifting of each miner should last just over 10 minutes with the capsule moving upwards at one meter per second. Another 10 minutes are estimated to prepare and install each miner in the capsule and another ten minutes to return the capsule again to the bottom of the mine.
The miners had been ingesting a diet based on nutritional supplements and for the preceding six hours of rescue will only ingest liquids. They are also receiving psychological assistance to reduce nervousness and anxiety.
The precise sequence of the miner’s rescue has not yet been announced by the authorities, with the exception that there will be 5 men qualified as “most able” who will come out first. They will be expected to describe details on the condition of the shaft, the performance of the capsule, and the sensations of the lifting process. Following these, the 15 workers labelled as “most labile” will be lifted. These are the ones deemed as weaker, suffering from physiological or psychological limitations, and finally the remaining miners will follow. The name of the last one out has probably been decided, however it has not been announced by the authorities.
Although the plan is to keep the rescued miners for about 2 hours at the site of the mine in a specially built compound for preliminary medical check-ups and then transfer them by helicopter to a hospital in the city of Copiapó, about 70 kilometres from the mine, relatives of the miners had said that the rescued workers will insist in not being taken to the Copiapó Hospital, until the last miner has been removed from the mine.
UPDATE (9:30 AM local time):
According to newspaper La Tercera (on line, in Spanish), the start of the rescue operation has been set for tonight at 20:00 hrs.
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