Trapped Chilean Miners: Big Drill Arrives on Scene to Cheers

The drill arrives, but it's a long haul for trapped men.

August 23, 2010, 4:53 PM

Aug. 24, 2010 — -- A convoy carrying the huge drill that will bore the 26-inch wide hole to liberate 33 trapped Chilean miners has just arrived at the remote mine site.

With horns blaring and family members of the miners cheering, the procession inched its way up to the rescue area where the miners are trapped 2,258 feet below ground.

It is expected to take several days to assemble to drill. Once it is operating it will be slow going -- perhaps 30 to 60 feet per day. Laurence Golborne, Chile's mines minister, says the unstable rock and the safety of the trapped miners prevent the use of faster drilling methods.

The trapped men have not yet been told that it may take four months to drill the rescue hole for fear of demoralizing them, officials said.

Maria Segovia's brother is one of the trapped miners. She's been camping out by the mine since the collapse August 5.

"Even though they haven't told them how long the rescue will take, they are strong, they are miners and they know it won't be easy to get them out," Segovia said. "This is going to teach the world about survival, about the will to live."

Earlier today, officials revealed new details on just how the men survived 17 days with no help and what they will need for the months-long effort to rescue them.

"We've made contact, they are good," said Golborne. "The worst problem is that one has a stomach ache."

The discovery on Sunday that the trapped Chilean miners are alive couldn't have come soon enough; the miners were just days away from running out of their meager food supply.

Every two days since the August 5 mine collapse, the men would eat two spoonfuls of canned fish, a half cup of milk, half of a cracker and a little canned peach. The men managed to stretch a 48-hour food supply into rations to last them 20 days.

Rescuers think the men have each lost at least 17.6 pounds and each run the risk of developing ulcers. Today, the men are eating glucose and rehydration tablets to restore their digestive systems.

"The idea is to administer glucose solution to them in large quantities and test their tolerance by oral ingestion," said Paola Newman, head of health for the Atacama region of Chile.

Rescue workers established phone contact with the men for about an hour yesterday by lowering a communication cable down one of two six-inch bore holes that have been drilled. Workers say that the leader of the group, Luis Urzua, sounded strong. Urzua, 54-years-old, is the chief of the miners' shift. He told rescuers that the men almost escaped from the copper and gold mine.

"We went up the [ventilation] chimney, and since we ran out of ladder, we aborted the situation," Urzua told rescuers.

Engineers say that the men were just 82 feet from escaping the mine when they ran out of ladder.

Engineers and rescue workers listened to the men sing the Chilean National Anthem. They instructed the men on how to act in the coming hours and how to use the supplies that are being lowered to them through a six inch hole. They were told to stay clear of the mine's collapsed zone.

Trapped Miners Ask For Toothbrushes

In perhaps an incidental sign of the long stay to come, the 33 miners trapped 2,258 feet below ground in Chile reportedly made an unusual first request when they were contacted by rescuers: Send toothbrushes.

They made the request, reported today by the Associated Press, as rescuers drilled a second six-inch-wide hole to the trapped miners to communicate with them via scribbled notes.

Standing near the entrance of the collapsed mine, Chile's minister of mines, told ABC News in comments airing today, that there has never been a rescue effort in Chile as long as this one could be. Government officials have said the miners may not surface until around Christmas.

Although the rescue effort is a slow, deliberate process, Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia -- a state widely known for its dependence on the mining industry and experience in substantial mine rescue operations -- is hopeful the Chilean government's estimate is conservative.

"They'll get through this. I'll bet we get them out quicker than that," Manchin told "GMA."

After seven failed attempts, rescuers finally drilled a six-inch hole down to where the men are holed up on Sunday. When the drill came back to the surface, two notes were attached to it, one from the eldest of the miners, 63-year-old Mario Gomez. He wrote to his wife, translated from Spanish, "I want to tell everyone that I'm good and we'll surely come out OK."

Gomez's wife, Lila Ramirez, told "GMA" she will wait as long as necessary to see her husband but will never allow him to go back into a mine after he comes up.

When the mine collapsed, the men journeyed down seven miles of zigzagging tunnels, 2,258 feet to get to the mine's shelter.

The shelter is 32.8 feet by 13.1 feet, too small and too poorly ventilated for the men to sleep there. They've been sleeping in other parts of the mine. There is no toilet and so the men are using a tunnel further away.

Now, the hole that let the world know the men are still alive will be used to sustain them. Engineers coated the walls of the bore-hole with a metallic gel Monday to help reinforce the hole and make it easier for rescuers and family to send the men materials.

In coming days, rescuers hope to drill a third small hole to help pump in oxygen.

2,258 feet Below Ground, Grueling Conditions: Heat, Cramped Space, Darkness

The men are surviving under grueling conditions, entombed in a space that's just 600 square feet, the size of a hotel room. The temperature: a sweltering 95 degrees with 95 percent humidity.

They have a little electricity from a truck engine. They have dug into the dirt floor of the mine with a backhoe to reach tiny amounts of water to drink, but they reportedly only had food for two days.

"People may say this is not successful because these men are trapped," Ellen Smith, managing editor of Mine Safety & Health News, said Monday. "I say this is incredibly successful because these men survived and they will be able to survive."

Using a hose, rescue workers are sending down packages called "palomas," Spanish for pigeons. Each paloma takes an hour to reach the men. The first "paloma" contained glucose, one flashlight, pencils, 33 doses of medicine to prevent ulcers and a device that will let them talk to their loved ones.

Three other packages have been lowered to the men. Included in those packages are food and eye patches. The men have complained that their eyes are dry from dust. Among the miners are one diabetic and one man suffering from hypertension. Workers sent medicine to both of the men.

On Monday, workers lowered questionnaires for the men to fill out about their health.

Mental Health of Miners

While nutrients and oxygen are needed to keep the men alive, many are worried about their mental health, holding up at the prospect of months spent thousands of feet below ground.

"They need to understand what we know up here at the surface, that it will take many weeks for them to reach the light," Chile's Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.

Rescuers plan to send small microphones down the hole to allow the men to speak with their families during the long wait.

To rescue the trapped miners, workers will try to dig a wider 27-inch shaft directly to the men. The men would be raised up one at a time. Two of the miners, however, are obese and it's not clear how they will fit. Rescuers hope the men will lose weight in the mine to fit through the hole.

The miners seem to sense the journey ahead of them. In the note to his wife, Mario Gomez scrawled, translated from Spanish, "patience and faith, God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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