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Half-Mile of Rock Between Chilean Miners, Lives on Surface

August 26, 2010 at 6:43 PM EST
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The 33 trapped Chilean miners have been stuck underground for 21 days and they may not get out until Christmas. Tom Clarke of Independent Television News reports.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to the continuing drama of those trapped miners in Chile. They have survived the initial mine collapse, but still face enormous challenges.

We begin with this report narrated by Tom Clarke of Independent Television News.

TOM CLARKE: This lifeline to the 33 trapped miners is now supplying the men with everything rescuers think they will need to survive this marathon rescue effort. Last night, four days after contact was made, officials decided to break the news that rescue was far from imminent.

JAIME MANALICH, Chilean health minister (through translator): This won’t be finished before September the 18th and could finish before Christmas. The window is pretty wide. We’re talking about somewhere around three months. The end of November is the likely date that we need to tell them.

TOM CLARKE: Government officials aren’t just here to manage operations, but also the P.R. disaster of another major accident in a notoriously unsafe mine.

REMBERTO VALDES, attorney for miner (through translator): I can’t imagine why, when the mine hasn’t met the minimum safety requirements of the Chilean mining code, a specialized service for the Chilean government would allow the mine to operate against the interests of the miners.

TOM CLARKE: The men are trapped 700 meters beneath the ground, but there are several kilometers of spiraling roadway. It’s shaped like this to reach the seams of copper and gold. On the 5th of August, this is where the tunnel collapsed, 500 meters down, trapping the miners.

Two days later, a rescue attempt using these ventilation shafts was abandoned, after another collapse. Now, three weeks on, there are two main options for rescuing them, the first, using a heavy drill to bore a man-sized hole through solid rock direct to the men. It’s said this could take months. A quicker option is to drill around the collapsed areas, exploiting the existing tunnel, but this could be more risky.

With one bore hole carrying food and another communications, efforts are now focused on the miners’ health. Eight of the men are said to be under mental strain. A few others have minor physical ailments. Officials say each is being treated individually by doctors.

Nine of the men are said to be too fat to fit through the proposed escape shaft. The family of trapped miner Franklin Ramirez (ph) have joked that he could do with losing some weight. A former professional footballer, Ramirez was a truck driver in the mine. Chile’s national side sent this autographed shirt in support.

CAROLINA LOBOS, daughter of miner (through translator): We sent him a card after finding them, and we had a reply from him yesterday, where he said that he loved us very much, that he wanted to be with us soon just as much as we wanted to be with him.

TOM CLARKE: A Chilean submarine crew arrived at the mine to offer tips on coping with life at close quarters. But though these men are trapped, they’re not confined. This footage from a neighboring mine shows the scale of block mining operations in Chile.

In the two-kilometer expanse of tunnel available to them, they have already set up separate areas for eating and washing. Daylight lamps are due to arrive soon.

But however many comforts are sent down these narrow lifelines, the experienced miners will be acutely aware that there is still half-a-mile of rock between them and the lives that they left at the surface.