COPIAPO, Chile — Each of the 33 miners trapped a half-mile underground lived on two spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk, a bite of crackers and a morsel of peaches.
They were so careful in eating what was supposed to be a two-day emergency supply that when the outside world finally reached them 17 days after a mine collapse, they still had some food left.
The discipline the men have already shown will be essential during the
four months it may take rescuers to dig a hole wide enough to get them
out of their shelter. The first communications with the trapped miners,
now able to talk through a fixed line with their rescuers above — show
how determined they have been to stay alive.
"We heard them with
such strength, such spirit, which is a reflection of what for them has
been a gigantic fortitude and a very well organized effort," Mining
Minister Laurence Golborne said Tuesday after talking with the miners at
length the night before through an intercom system lowered into their
underground refuge. "The way that they have rationed the food, just as
they've performed throughout this crisis, is an example for all of us."
miners were plunged into darkness by the Aug. 5 collapse of the main
shaft of a gold and silver mine that runs like a corkscrew for more than
four miles (7 kilometers) under a barren mountain in northern Chile's
Atacama desert. They gained contact with the outside world Sunday when
rescuers drilled a narrow bore-hole down to their living-room-sized
shelter after seven failed attempts.
"It's been like a heart
that's breaking, but we're thankful they're all alive," bore-hole
driller Rodrigo Carreno told The Associated Press as he prepared to
leave Tuesday. "We did everything we could to save them, and in the end
The miners said they have honored the same
hierarchy they used on any work shift, following the directions of
54-year-old shift foreman Luis Urzua.
They conserved the use of
their helmet lamps, their only source of light other than a handful of
vehicles whose engines contaminate the air supply. They fired up a
bulldozer to carve into a natural water deposit, but otherwise minimized
using the vehicles that contaminate the available air.
miners can still reach many chambers and access ramps in the lower
reaches of the mine, and have used a separate area some distance from
their reinforced emergency refuge as their bathroom. But they have
mostly stayed in the refuge, where they knew rescuers would try to reach
The room has become stiflingly hot and stuffy. Leaving it
allows them to breathe better air, but wandering too far is risky in the
unstable mine, which has suffered several rock collapses since the
initial accident. It's also spooky, since headlamps can illuminate only
small areas of the vast space.
Rescue efforts advanced
considerably Tuesday as a third bore-hole prepared to break through to
the miners, and a huge machine arrived from central Chile to carve out a
tunnel just wide enough for the miners to be pulled out one-by-one.
That machine won't begin drilling for several days.
Sougarret, the rescue effort's leader, estimated that it would take
three to four months to pull the men out. But Davitt McAteer, a former
assistant secretary of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration,
called that "perhaps the most conservative model."
hundred feet is not a terribly, terribly big hole to drill," McAteer
said. "We ought to be able to get them out in a period of weeks, not
Meanwhile, three 6-inch-wide (15-centimeter) shafts will
serve as the miners' "umbilical cords" — one for supplies, another for
communications and a third to guarantee their air supply.
steady flow of emergency supplies was sent down to the miners on Tuesday
in a rocket-shaped metal tube called a "paloma," Spanish for dove. The
paloma is 5 1/4 feet (1.6 meters) long and takes a full hour to descend
through the bore-hole.
The supplies included 33 small
low-intensity and low-energy LED lights, so that each miner can have a
light source that won't bother his eyes in the otherwise murky depths of
the mine. Also sent down Tuesday was "more nutritive food" in the form
of a vitamin-enriched gel, along with eye patches, aspirin and medicine
for one miner who has diabetes and another who suffers from the
respiratory disease silicosis, Health Minister Jaime Manalich said
Family members who have maintained an anxious vigil
outside the mine were encouraged to send notes down Tuesday. First was
Lila Ramirez, answering the "Dear Lila" letter from her husband, Mario
Gomez, that thrilled the nation when President Sebastian Pinera read it
aloud, providing the first details of the miners' survival.
wrote him just now and told him to be very patient, that we're all
camped out here, following his every heartbeat. That he shouldn't become
desperate, and that he try to be extremely tranquil," Ramirez told the
With each passing day, the families have been praying for
their trapped husbands, fathers, brothers and boyfriends in tents
surrounding the mine entrance, where cold nights end in a chilly fog.
There's a bonfire to keep warm, and barbecue and other food donated by
the local government in a common tent.
"We're not going to
abandon this camp until we go out with the last miner left," said Maria
Segovia. "There are 33 of them, and one is my brother."
the miners were discovered alive on Sunday, many Chileans were beginning
to assume the worst. The stunning news of their survival prompted
euphoria and pride across a country still recovering from one of the
world's most powerful earthquakes.
Urzua, the shift foreman
assured Golborne, the mining minister, that they were all doing well,
and asked whether their fellow miners working above them managed to
escape the Aug. 5 collapse. Golborne said all were safe, prompting
cheers from the miners below. Moments later, the miners joined in a
cheer and sang the national anthem in a full-throated chorus, prompting
more cheers, applause and tears among the crowd above.
more week, the men will have been trapped underground longer than any
other miners in history. Last year, three miners survived 25 days
trapped in a flooded mine in southern China. Few other rescues have
taken more than two weeks.
Chile is the world's top copper
producer and a leading gold producer, and has some of the world's most
advanced mining operations.
The mine where the miners are trapped
was closed in 2007 after an explosion killed three workers, but was
allowed to reopen the next year — without security improvements, miners'
families and union co-workers say. The allegations prompted Pinera to
fire the three leading mine safety regulators involved, and to promise
no impunity should criminal liability be discovered.
said that if a ventilation shaft had been in good condition, the miners
would have been able to use it to escape. Urzua told the minister that
they had tried, but the route was blocked.