Chile mine rescue draws nearer

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. They have waited deep inside the earth for more than two months. Well the wait may soon be over for the 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,000 feet below ground. Workers drilling a rescue tunnel expect to reach the men this weekend. But it is not all that simple. The BBC's Gideon Long is at the mine in northern Chile where authorities are still trying to decide whether the rescue tunnel needs reinforcement.

GIDEON LONG: There's a debate about whether to line the tunnel with a metal casing to make it more secure or whether the rock is solid enough that they can just go ahead with the escape without having to line the tunnel.

MULLINS: Okay, give us as complete a picture as you can of how the rescue is supposed to play out. And I just want to mention for our listeners, if they want to follow along, they can go to our website where there is a really fascinating, detailed animated slideshow with pretty vivid images of just how complex this is, this whole rescue system. But Gideon, describe it for us because there's some things that we might not suspect would be happening in this. It's not just like shooting a straight line down to where the miners are.

LONG: The engineers have said they have basically three options. They could choose not to line the tunnel at all, they could line it completely from top to bottom which would be 700 meters and would take around four days, or they can just line parts of the tunnel, those parts that are more susceptible to rock collapses. So that's the first thing they have to decide. Once the tunnel is secure they will set a winch up at the top of the shaft and they will drop a specially designed capsule down and that will be the capsule that the miners will be brought up in. Before they bring any of the miners up, an official from Codelco, the Chilean mining corporation, will go down in the shaft and come back up again to make sure it's secure and only then will the rescue start.

MULLINS: When the rescue starts itself, let's say everybody, all those who have gone down as a test and come back up again, they send down at least one medic correct? And how long will that person be down with the miners before they start rescuing them individually?

LONG: That's right. The second person down the shaft will be a medic who will then stay down there and supervise from below as each miner is sent up to the surface. The rescue team will work in shifts. There are six people who've been assigned to this operation. They've be working in teams of two, working twelve hour shifts until the rescue it complete. 33 men, it's obviously going to take a long time to bring them up. It could be over a day before all of them are brought to the surface.

MULLINS: So it takes at least an hour for each of them to get up?

LONG: That's right. The actual journey up from the bottom should only take around 15 to 20 minutes, but you have to remember that the capsule has to dropped down, the miners have to get into it, they have to make sure it's secure, they have to make sure they telecom system is working, because there's a telecom system inside the capsule so that the miners can communicate with the rescuers up above. So, there're all sorts of things that come into play. The actual journey should only be 15 to 20 minutes, but for each man it will take around an hour to bring them up to the surface.

MULLINS: How do they decide who comes up to the surface first?

LONG: Well, there's been a lot of debate about that. I heard yesterday that the miners themselves have been drawing lots to see which order they would come up in. The rescue team have said that they might try to bring them up according to how well they are, how well they are physically, so that still remains to be seen. We still don't know who will be the first man up and who will be the last man up.

MULLINS: And just so we know what's going on around you right now, there's something that sounds like maybe a generator. Just tell us what's happening there.

LONG: There are hundreds of generators here now. It's been amazing to see this camp transform over the last week or so. Hundreds of journalists have turned up here. We're told that by the time of the rescue there might be up to a 1,000 journalists here in the middle of nowhere in the Atacama desert. The families are still camped out here. Many of the relatives have been here since August the 5th when the rock collapse happened. And they've been joined by many more of their relatives, so the camp is expanding all the time. There are journalists here, family members, psychologists, doctors, engineers, a whole mishmash really, quite a mixed community which is growing all the time.

MULLINS: And one more thing that's there. Apparently a pair of special sunglasses for each of the miners?

LONG: That's right. You can imagine, they've been below ground in the dark for two months, they have had some illumination down there, but they obviously haven't had any natural sunlight and they'll be coming up into the blinding light of the Atacama Desert. So, there's one thing that the medics have stressed all along, that they're going to have to protect their eyesight. They'll be giving them a special pair of glasses and they'll be walking them through a tunnel to the point where the helicopter takes off, which will take them down to the hospital in Copiapo where they'll be given two days of medical treatment.

MULLINS: Alright, the BBC's Gideon Long outside the San Jose Mine near the town of Copiapo in northern Chile. Once again, listeners can go to our website to see a detailed animated slideshow of how the rescue's expected to happen. Gideon, thanks.

LONG: Thank you.