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Operation Underway to Rescue Chilean Miners

October 12, 2010 at 5:35 PM EDT
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Washington Post reporter Jonathan Franklin provides an update from the scene of a rescue operation to free 33 trapped Chilean miners.
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JIM LEHRER: And now back to the saga of the Chilean miners and to Jeffrey Brown.

JEFFREY BROWN: And joining us by phone from the mine site is Jonathan Franklin, a special reporter for The Washington Post. Jonathan, welcome.

Is it correct that the first step here is to send paramedics down the shaft to help the miners? And has that happened yet?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN, The Washington Post: No, I’m looking right now at the hole where the miners will be rescued from. It’s about 50 meters away from me. And there’s quite a flurry of activity, bulldozers, a dozen, two dozen helmeted men trying to get everything together.

The first rescuer will be heading down there probably within the hour.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, once they go down, what happens? How soon after do — is the expectation? Well, what is the expectation right now about when miners would start coming up?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: It’s been changing all day long. It would be a bit difficult to estimate.

This schedule just seems to change every time a drill bit breaks. I know that, as recently as half-an-hour ago, I saw the men fiddling, trying to put together the last pieces on this capsule that will bring them up. So, I think you — it would be safe to say, some time in the next two or three hours, this capsule will be going down and then coming up with a miner inside.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, I gather there is some word about the order in which they will be coming up, who will come up first. And tell us about who that is and why he was chosen, as far as you know so far.

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Florencio Avalos is a man who is both healthy and wise, in the sense that he will be able to guide the miners up top about what worked well, what didn’t work. So, he’s actually experienced enough that he can give feedback. That’s what they like about him, is that he’s healthy enough that he won’t have mental or physical problems, and he’s smart enough that he explain what went right and what went wrong.

Number two will be a Bolivian guy, Carlos Mamani, that was chosen in a very political way, because the Chileans and the Bolivians generally don’t get along. And this is a way of the Chileans saying, you know, we take this seriously. We will you a certain priority.

Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, may or may not be here. He was talking about coming. I’m not sure if he actually showed up. But it’s very important for the Chileans to show that there’s no prejudice against the Bolivian miner.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what — what — what are officials saying? Now, how confident are they sounding? What kind of talk is there of potential contingencies if anything does go wrong in the process?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: It’s at about 99 percent this is going to work and 1 percent we hope — it doesn’t.

JEFFREY BROWN: Excuse me, 1 percent what?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Well, 1 percent that we hope nothing — we hope — 1 percent that something could go wrong, but 99 percent of all the talk here, both official and unofficial, is, of course, this is will work. One percent is, yes, there might be a problem.

But it’s very unlikely. It seems to be a pretty safe and operation at this point. They have tested, double-tested, triple-tested for quite some time.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s still a tough trip to get up to the top, right? Tell us what these guys are going to have to go through in the capsule.

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: There’s more than a dozen curves. People are under the impression that this is a straight shot. That’s not true. This is more like a ride you might do at a carnival or something. It’s really quite remarkable.

They will be twisting and turning at a speed of 2.5 meters per second. Even the rescue workers who I just spoke to said they got dizzy and a bit nauseous. It’s not a straight shot. It’s a bit of a bizarre ride. And they will be strapped in there pretty tightly.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what’s the latest you’ve heard about the conditions, the preparations, the attitudes of the miners as they prepare to do this?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: The miners are very prepared for this. They have been having a hard time sleeping.

I spoke to one of the miners this morning, Luis Urzua. I’m the first reporter to have spoken to any of the reporters (sic) down there. And he was quite confident. And he said, this is — in so many words, he said, “This is a chapter of our lives we never planned for and I hope we never have to live again.”

JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, Jonathan, tell us about the scene where you are, the atmosphere, the anticipation at the site.

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: I’m pretty high up on the hill. I have been the only reporter so far to actually be allowed on the rescue site. There’s about 2,000 reporters kind of corralled down at the bottom of the hill. They probably all want to wonder why I’m up here, hundreds of yards away.

I’m standing on a pile of rocks looking right down on the capsule. It’s professional nervousness. These people know what they’re doing. The Chileans are very organized about this. The Chilean president is here. It’s been in planning for this for weeks. So, it’s really very highly organized. But people have been working nonstop for weeks here. So, there’s a lot of fatigue about to hit.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what is the plan as miners come to the surface? What happens to them? What’s going to be done?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: They will be taking them to a tent and immediately checked by doctors to make sure that their vital signs — that they’re breathing OK, that they didn’t get too scared. So, there will be a stabilization process that could take two hours. And some time during that period, they will be able to be with family members.

JEFFREY BROWN: But I gather they are going to be kept away from cameras and lights for the time being?

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: Yes. There’s a — there’s great concern about the pressure of facing 2,000 very eager journalists.

So, they have even put up some nets, so that the press can’t really film it very well. It’s going to be a difficult time for these miners, in the sense that they’re going to be swarmed by press very soon, not maybe today or tomorrow, but soon after.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Jonathan Franklin, thanks very much.

JONATHAN FRANKLIN: You’re welcome.