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Rescuers Pin Hopes on ‘Plan B’ to Free Trapped Chilean Miners

October 8, 2010 at 5:53 PM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Next: a day of excitement and mounting drama in Chile, where 33 miners have been trapped since August 5.

Chilean authorities are working on three different rescue plans, but
have focused most hopes on the one they call plan B. But there were some hitches today.

Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News is on the scene at the San Jose mine.

JONATHAN MILLER: In the dusty hills of the Atacama Desert, one of the most high-risk, high-stakes rescue operations ever undertaken is at its most critical stage.

On the phone this morning, I asked a worker at the drill head how things are. “Tense” was all he said. At the plan B drill, they’re very close now, risk-reduction the only thing that matters, 33 men’s lives in the balance.

No one wants the eagerness to get the miners out to compromise their safety. In other words, the rescue chief isn’t taking any chances. Overnight, the drilling on plan B — that is the fastest rig here — has stopped, because it was decided they wanted to change to a smaller drill bit to go down the last
40 meters. That will be more accurate and easier to control from half-a-mile up here on the surface.

Alberto Segovia says he spoke to his brother Dario by video link just yesterday. He says his face looked strained. The delay is a blow to the anxious families, who thought the drill would have broken through by now.

ALBERTO SEGOVIA, brother of trapped miner (through translator): We were very frustrated, because we weren’t expecting that. But we will continue with faith and believing that God is with us. We trust the rescue team. They are professionals. We have waited more than 60 days, and we can wait a little bit
longer.

JONATHAN MILLER: Breaking through is one thing. Next, they must decide whether to insert a steel pipe into the curved shaft to aid the ascent of the escape capsule. Doing so entails yet more high risk, but, without it, the capsule could get permanently jammed on jagged rocks. What a choice.

(MUSIC)

JONATHAN MILLER: Late last night, it was a very different scene in Campamento Esperanza, Camp Hope, home to the miners’ relatives. It’s 400 meters from the drill head and 700 meters above their entombed loved ones — a midnight
vigil which they had hoped would be their last before the drill broke through.

There was prayer and song and contemplation. And, through the flames, holding a carnation, Senator Isabel Allende, daughter of President Salvador Allende, murdered in a coup nearly 40 years ago, she is here in solidarity.

ISABEL ALLENDE, Chilean senator (through translator): This is a country that’s confronted the huge challenge of rescuing the 33 miners and comforting their loved ones. But the lessons we must learn from this are about the safety of our miners, their treatment, and the conditions in which they work.

JONATHAN MILLER: The new day has brought fresh complications. And exactly when the 33 will emerge from the darkness into the light remains a question fraught with risk and worry.