Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chile: Mining rescue mission underway (Updated)

Image - Monsters and Critics ("Juan Illanes (C), the third Chilean miner rescued, is applauded by Chile's President Sebastian Pinera (R) after being raised to the surface during the rescue operation at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, on 13 October 2010. ")

Note: Live video of the rescue mission via Chilean television can be seen here.

Update (1:35 am): While the rescue efforts continue in Copiapo I'm afraid this will be the final update of the evening.

It has been a very emotional past few hours in Chile filled with smiles, tears, and joy. Hopefully the rescue operation can continue smoothly and all of the trapped workers will soon be free.

Viva Chile!

Update (1:20 am): An inspiring reaction by Illanes according to the BBC:
As Juan Illanes emerges, he is asked how his trip was. His reply? "Like a cruise!" Smiles all round.
In the meantime preparations are under way to rescue the fourth trapped worker, Bolivian heavy machinery operator Carlos Mamani.

Update (1:08 am): Three down, thirty to go - Juan Illanes safely returned to the surface moments ago much to the delight of his overjoyed wife.

Update (12:55 am): Juan Illanes is about to board the Fenix capsule en route to the surface. He is married and has one son. He is a former corporal and even fought against Argentine troops during a border dispute over thirty years ago..

Update (12:45 am): Juan Illanes is about to board the Fenix capsule en route to the surface. He is married and has one son. He is a former corporal and even fought against Argentine troops during a border dispute over thirty years ago.

Update (12:30 am): The Fenix is on it's way to get the third miner to be rescued: 51-year-old Juan Illanes.

Update (12:18 am):
Sepulveda stepped out of the Fenix capsule and gave emotional hugs to numerous rescue workers, officials, and his family. While Avalos' arrival was subdued, Sepulveda jumped, shouted, and was very energetic. He even gave out small pieces of rock as souveniers to some of those in the crowd!

Update (12:10 am):
Mario Sepulveda emerged from the Fenix capsule and thus becomes the second rescued miner.

Update (11:58 pm): Mario Sepulveda is on his way back to the surface. The BBC News liveblog of the rescue describes him as " the undisputed star of the videos sent up by the miners...Quick-witted and charismatic, he is already in demand among Chile's TV chat shows."

Update (11:55 pm): Correction - Mario Sepulveda is not the lone non-Chilean of the miners. That would be Carlos Mamani who is fourth on the rescue list. Sorry for the error.

Update (11:45 pm): The rescue capsule has just reached the miners' shelter in order to rescue Mario Sepulveda. The 32-year-old originally from Bolivia is the only non-Chilean of the miners and he's expected to be greeted by Bolivian president Evo Morales after his trip in the Fenix.

At a news conference from the San Jose mine
Chilean president Sebastian Pinera praised the rescue team with successfully rescuing Florencio Avalos. With an enormous grin on his face he vowed that the other 32 trapped miners will be safely rescued.

Update (11:19 pm): After spending over two months trapped below ground, Avalos arrived amongst an outpouring of emotion at the San Jose mine. He hugged his wife and son after emerging from the Fenix capsule.

Avalos appeared groggy and a little weak after exiting the Fenix. He was subsequently taken on a stretcher to receive medical attention.

A second rescue worker is entering the Fenix en route to fetch the next miner to be freed.

Update (11:11 pm): Florencio Avalos becomes the first of 33 miners to finally return to the surface!

Update (10:55 pm): After explaining the details of the rescue mission to the trapped miners, the Fenix capsule began its ascent with miner Florencio Avalos. The trip up to the surface could take between 15 to 20 minutes.

Avalos is expected to be greeted by family members including his father and possibly by Chilean president Sebastian Pinera. Afterwords Avalos will likely head to the triage area for medical examination.

Update (10:38 pm): Video from the shelter where the trapped miners are located shows that the Fenix capsule descended safely. Rescue worker Manuel Gonzalez is received with cries of "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!" by the miners.

Update (10:30 pm):
The Fenix chamber with rescue worker Manuel Gonzalez will be lowered down at the speed of one meter per second. The speed could be increased slightly after he secures the first rescued miner, Florencio Avalos. Each trip up and down the 624-meter long shaft could take between roughly 25 to 40 minutes.

Update (10:20 pm):
It's go time - a rescue worker began his descent in the Fenix capsule and his on his way to try to rescue the first miner.

Update (9:35 pm):
The last test is being conducted at the San Jose mine and the first miner could be rescued before midnight.

The final preparations are underway in Copiapo, Chile in anticipation of a planned rescue operation of 33 trapped miners.

Mining minister Lawrence Goldborne said that if all goes well the first miner, 31-year-old Florencio Avalos, will be freed by midnight Chilean time (11 p.m. ET). Nonetheless, this could be delayed by the final tests of the Fenix ("Phoenix") capsule that will travel down a narrow rescue tunnel over 600 meters below the surface to an emergency shelter where the miners have resided.

Anticipation runs high among the families and loved ones of the workers who have been stuck underground after a tunnel collapse on August 5th. "Right now I'm calm, though still very anxious. I hope my nerves don't betray me when the rescue starts," said the wife of trapped worker Alex Salgado to the AP.

The risks are many in the unprecedented rescue attempt though numerous precautions have been taken; for example, each miner will be wearing a special "bio-harness" while in the rescue capsule and each worker will be taken to a medical triage station after arriving on the surface.

The trapped miners range in age from 18 to 63 and all but one are of Chilean background. The first group of miners to be freed includes a Bolivian and were selected as they "have been deemed fit and who possess the most technical know-how so that they can advise the rescue teams."

Online Source - The Globe and Mail, BBC News, MSNBC, CNN

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