Timeline: Trapped Chilean Miners May Be Near Rescue

BY Sarah C. Sullivan  October 8, 2010 at 5:10 PM EST


Site where rescued miners will be pulled. Photo by Ariel Marinkovic/AFP/Getty Images

Rescue workers burrowing toward Chilean miners trapped a half-mile below the surface could possibly reach the 33 men by Friday night or Saturday and start extracting them by Tuesday.

As of Thursday, the rescue team had drilled through 1,755 feet of solid rock, and had just a little more than 300 feet of earth to bore through before reaching the trapped miners, said Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, head of the rescue effort.

To help reduce the risk of the escape capsule jamming if the shaft should partially collapse, Chile’s government is planning to insert a steel pipe that would be able to withstand tons of pressure, though the pipe itself would pose some risk.

The 33 men have been underground for 63 days — a record for the longest time underground by miners, according to the Associated Press. Here is a timeline of the developments in that time:

Aug. 5 – The collapse of the main ramp into the San Jose mine in the northern Chilean city of Copiapo leaves 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground. Emergency officials are unable to communicate with the miners.

Aug. 6 – Chile’s National Emergency office issues a statement saying 130 people are working to rescue the miners.

Aug. 7 – Rescue workers, who began descending toward the shelter via a ventilation shaft on Aug. 6, are forced to abandon that route when a fresh cave-in blocks the duct, Reuters reported.

Aug. 22 – Early in the day, a drill reaches a depth of 2,260 feet (688 meters) and rescue workers hear tapping on the drill, according to Reuters. When the drill was pulled out, it had a note attached: “Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33,” — “We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us,” it said. A video camera lowered through the bore hole showed the miners alive and was later broadcast on television sets across the country. “Today all of Chile is crying with excitement and joy,” President Sebastian Pinera said. But the miners might not be reached until Christmas.

Aug. 24 – The trapped miners start receiving food, water and oxygen. The first of the packages held rehydration tablets and a high-energy glucose gel to help the miners begin to recover their digestive systems. It takes an hour for the packages to reach the trapped men, The Guardian reported.

Aug. 25 – Chile seeks advice from NASA on how to keep the miners mentally and physically fit for the months it may take to rescue them.

Aug. 27 – The first video images recorded with a camera sent to the miners is brought to the surface, sending cheers over the camp that the miners’ families have set up to await news from their loved ones. The camera is sent in a plastic tube through a 4-inch diameter hole, the New York Times reported.

Aug. 31 – Rescue workers begin drilling a preliminary test hole. “The 31-ton drill made a shallow, preliminary test hole today in the solid rock it must bore through, the first step in the week-long digging of a ‘pilot hole’ to guide the way for the rescue,” according to the AP.

Sept. 2 – Uncertainty in rescue efforts expressed. “In reality, nobody can say exactly how long it will take,” said Walter Veliz Araya, the geologist in charge of drilling the first three bore holes. “As the drilling proceeds, they’ll be better able to estimate.”

Sept. 8 – The trapped miners watch a soccer match between Chile and Ukraine. A miniature projector dropped down a narrow bore hole displayed the game on a wall. The Chilean players wore T-shirts reading “fuerza mineros” — “miners be strong!”

Sept. 13 – After much convincing, the miners begin receiving cigarettes.

Sept. 18 – Chilean Independence Day

Sept. 27 – The 33 miners begin getting detailed instructions on the rescue plans that involve lifting each miner through a “torpedo-shaped capsule, which has been called the Phoenix,” reported The Guardian.

Oct. 4 – Chilean President Pinera says he hopes to have the men out before Oct. 15. “We are very close to rescuing them, and I hope to be able to rescue them before leaving for Europe,” he told a group of Chilean radio broadcasters, NPR reported.