Video gives tour of trapped miners' refuge

A new video showing the 33 miners trapped a half-mile underground provides the best images yet of the conditions in the mine in northern Chile.
October 13, 2010 4:25:16 AM PDT
The first video released of the 33 men trapped deep in a Chilean copper mine shows the men stripped to the waist and appearing slim but healthy, arm-in-arm, singing the national anthem and yelling "long live Chile, and long live the miners!" - images that bolstered family members' spirits Friday.

Camping just outside the entrance to the mine, those waiting for the miners' return said they were elated after seeing their loved ones - and that the men appeared to be in better shape than thought.

"It's entirely the opposite of what I thought!" said Antonio Bugueno, whose brother Carlos is one of those trapped. "I thought he would look much worse. But he appeared strong of heart and mind."

Only about five minutes of what is reportedly a 45-minute video were released late Thursday by Television Nacional de Chile via the Chilean government.

The men made the video with a small camera sent down to them through a small emergency shaft drilled to their emergency shelter deep in the San Jose mine.

The grainy, night-vision images show some men standing, others lying down and apparently just waking up. One man proudly displays the way they have organized the living room-sized shelter where they took refuge after a landslide trapped them. They also showed off areas outside the shelter where they can walk around.

The miners were trapped by an Aug. 5 collapse, and rescuers established contact with them 17 days later by drilling a 6-inch-wide (15-centimeter-wide) hole to the shelter. Rescuers are working to drill an escape tunnel that will be about 26 inches (66 centimeters) wide and could take weeks or months to complete.

An animated miner gives a guided tour through the ample space where the men have plenty of room to stand and lie down. He shows where the men meet and pray daily and points out the "little cup to brush our teeth."

"We have everything organized," he says.

The few items they have are carefully laid out: a first-aid cabinet, shelves holding unidentified bottles, mats in a corner for rest.

As the camera shows a table with dominoes laid out, the tour guide says that "this is where we entertain ourselves, where we play cards."

"We meet here everyday," he adds. "We plan, we have assemblies here everyday so that all the decisions we make are based on the thoughts of all 33."

Bugueno said his brother was sitting at the table where men had laid out the dominoes.

"He didn't say anything in the video, but that is his way, he is a man of few words. For that reason, I know he is basically his same old self," Antonio Bugueno said of Carlos, 27, who has worked in the mine for more than a year. "He has always been camera shy, and I noticed that he turned away from the camera when it was pointed at him."

The camera used to make the video was sent down through a bore-hole used for communications. Another small hole that snakes down to the men's shelter is used for lowering food and a third provides ventilation.

Many of the miners appeared in the video wearing their hard hats. As the camera pans to them, some flash peace signs, wave and smile. Others look groggy as if just awakened.

"Greetings to my family! Get us out of here soon, please!" says one unidentified man.

At one point the footage shows a close-up of a thermometer reading 29.5 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit).

Another man displays what psychiatrists have said is a key trait to keeping the men motivated and optimistic - a sense that they have a role in their own destinies.

"There are a large number of professionals who are going to help in the rescue efforts from down here," the man says. The miners have each lost 22 pounds (10 kilos) during the ordeal, and remain so dehydrated that they need a gallon (4 liters) of liquid a day to compensate. One of the boreholes will be dedicated for now to sending down water, since the industrial water and groundwater the men survived on since the collapse isn't drinkable.

"With the clinical evaluations that we have been able to do thanks to our 'medical agent' down there, we have a pretty clear idea that they suffer from dehydration and have lost a lot of weight," said Health Minister Jaime Manalich.

That "medical agent" is Jonny Berrios, who has used his training as a paramedic to check up on his fellow miners, even taking blood and urine samples with help from above. The miner with diabetes has recuperated, and others got medication that resolved their skin irritation.

"He's going to have a good career in medicine," the minister said, winking. "We have been able to establish more than adequate logistical support."

NASA also has helped: Manalich said he had a telephone conference with the U.S. space agency's deputy director, who agreed with Chile's plan for reintroducing liquid nutrition and food to the miners. They are already getting cereal bars, and by early next week should be able to handle all the calories they need.

Some who asked for cigarettes are getting nicotine gum.

By early next week, a permanent phone line will be established so that they can talk with their families. By then, work should have begun on their escape tunnel.

What the men may not know is that the mining company that hired them is doing nothing to join them in a rescue. The San Esteban company says it can't afford to pay their wages and may go bankrupt.

San Esteban is in such bad shape that it has neither the equipment nor the money to rescue the men; Chile's state-owned mining company is going to drill the escape tunnel, which will cost about $1.7 million.

In the days after the tunnel collapse at the gold and copper mine, company leaders defended their safety measures, but have since gone mum and attempts to reach anyone at San Esteban were not successful.

On Thursday, the first of many expected lawsuits against San Esteban and the government were filed, and a judge ordered the retention of $1.8 million of company money in anticipation of the suits.

Despite advances in technology and increased emphasis on safety - at least publicly - mining remains a dangerous profession.

Since 2000, about 34 people have died every year on average in mining accidents in Chile, with a high of 43 in 2008, according to a review of Sernageomin data.

The agency declined interview requests, citing the investigation and internal overhaul that Pinera ordered.

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Associated Press Writers Peter Prengaman and Federico Quilodran in Copiapo; Eduardo Gallardo in Santiago; and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.


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