Saturday, October 09, 2010
With Drilling Near End, Chile Rescue Enters Risky Phase - NYTimes.com
SAN JOSÉ MINE, Chile — After more than two months living nearly half a mile underground, the 33 miners trapped below this scorching desert could be just a few short days from emerging into what will seem like a blinding sun.
A powerful drill, twisting and pounding its way through the abrasive volcanic rock, was only about 130 feet from breaking through to the miners on Friday afternoon, nearly completing a rescue hole for them to be hauled to the surface, according to Chile’s mining minister. If all went well, he said, the drill could reach the miners early Saturday.
But a rescue would still be days away, and officials here warned that the operation was entering its most dangerous phase. Every decision, they said, carried a risk that the inspiring story consuming the Chilean government and captivating the world could quickly turn toward disaster.
“We have done everything that technology permits,” said Miguel Fortt, a consultant on underground mining rescues in the Atacama region. “If the Lord doesn’t send us an earthquake, we’ll be O.K.”
The miners themselves may have to set off dynamite to widen the hole at their end so that the rescue capsule — named the Phoenix — has enough room. Engineers at the surface also need to decide whether to line the rescue hole with steel pipes to prevent loose rocks from falling into the shaft and damaging or blocking the capsule.
But whatever the approach, it is going to be a very tight fit. The rescue hole is only a little more than two feet wide and it is not even straight, which could create potential snags as the capsule shimmies up, carrying one man at a time.