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Rescue of Chilean Miners Nears, but Risks Remain

October 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As rescuers prepare to evacuate the trapped Chilean miners, risks remain to the safe return of the all the men. Ray Suarez talks to Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News, who is on the scene in Chile.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And for more on the progress and risks involved, Ray Suarez talked this afternoon to Jonathan Miller, another ITN reporter on the scene at the San Jose mine.

RAY SUAREZ: Jonathan, what’s been going on between the completion of the drilling and the beginning of the operation to extract the men?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, the main thing has been putting in these big, thick steel casing pipes into the top of the rescue shaft. This has now been completed successfully. They have had cameras going right down inside inspecting it. That’s been monitored up on the surface.

And geologists have given it the all-clear. The little capsule, the Phoenix rescue capsule itself, shaped like a bullet, has been up and down inside successfully. They have had it right down to 610 meters. That’s 2,000 feet down inside, only 40 meters — 30 feet, I should say, short of the actual Chamber itself.

And they’re very happy with it. One of the things they have discovered, I should add, is that, when they bring it back up again, because of the twists and turns in the tunnel, the capsule rotates or spirals up. And they have expecting it to go the full 360 degrees at least 10 or 12 times on the way to the surface.

And the miners have been advised to keep their eyes shut on the way up, although that may be because they want to protect their eyes from the sunlight above. And the miners, of course, inside will be in full radio-telephone contact with the surface.

RAY SUAREZ: Are there physical risks for the men? What do you have to be careful about as you bring them up from half-a-mile under the surface after more than nine weeks?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, you know, you can never describe this as a risk-free operation. And everyone is on tenterhooks, tense, nervous, and I’m sure very stressed.

However, the relatives all say that they’re happy that this whole operation is in the hands of real professionals. And I have talked to some of them today, including the chief rescue medic. Now, he has told me that, despite reports of physical and mental ailments among some of the men, he considers those pretty minimal. And he thinks they’re in reasonably good shape to come up.

They will — they have been doing about two weeks of quite intense cardiovascular training and muscle exercises. And all of the vital signs of the men down below have been monitored by medics on the surface. And this has allowed them to draw up a list of the order of ascent.

Now, this will also be done, of course, on not just physical and mental fitness, but on age and experience. But that order list has been drawn up. And it can be changed at any point, of course. And when the — I think they are sending down a special forces naval commando down inside first, along with a paramedic.

And they will select the men and bring them up. I think they — they will probably, you know, be in pretty rough shape when they emerge. But, at this stage, they’re pretty confident that they’re in a fit state to be brought up.

RAY SUAREZ: How long is it expected to take once they begin to bring them up, to bring up each individual miner to the surface, and then to rescue all 33?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, it’s long. It’s going to take about 25 minutes, they reckon, to pull them out. I mean, it could be a little less than that.

But the turnaround time that they’re going to expect to average, putting the capsule down, getting the men prepared, strapped in with their harnesses, into the coms equipment, all of that, and then bringing them up, the turnaround time to send the thing back down again will be about an hour.

So, with 33 miners and then two shifts of pairs of paramedics and commandos going down as well, that will be 37 men, 37 hours. So, if it starts sort of in the early hours of Wednesday morning, it certainly won’t be over until well into Thursday.

Now, the last man out is apparently going to be the foreman of the shift who has been in charge down below, although this, funnily enough, is a position which has been competed over by the men. The health minister of Chile has said that they’re all wanting to be the last man out.

And he — he said that this was a completely admirable show of solidarity. However, up here, there are suspicions that the reason that they’re all competing for this is, they want to be the man whose name goes into “The Guinness Book of Records” as the miner trapped longest underground.

RAY SUAREZ: No miner has ever been trapped underground for this length of time. Do we really know what faces them physically, psychologically, once they reach the surface?

JONATHAN MILLER: Well, you know, I met the chief psychiatrist and psychotherapist the other day. And I talked to him long and hard about this.

It is clear that they have been through a really, really intense experience. And there is the possibility of post-traumatic stress. However, he feels that, by and large, they have managed to cope very, very well with the situation.

And I have got to say that I took a trip a couple of days ago into another nearby copper mine. And we went right down into the depths, into the bowels of this mountain 350 meters below. That’s only half as deep as the guys here at the San Jose mine are.

But, down there, the air is thick and muggy. It’s — it’s — it’s 30 degrees centigrade. It’s really airless and very dusty. And, certainly, in the first 17 days of complete darkness, that must have been a terrifying thing, because, down there, when you switch off the lights, the darkness is absolute.

There is — you cannot see anything. And in the first 17 days after the collapse, it took a long time, I think five or six days, for the dust to settle down. So their lungs will be all mucked up as well. So, they will be in pretty rough shape.

RAY SUAREZ: Jonathan Miller joining us from the San Pedro mine in Chile, thanks a lot.

JONATHAN MILLER: Sure thing, Ray. You’re welcome.