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'Phoenix' sparks hope for trapped miners

Video by Stephen CLARKE


Latest update : 2010-09-27

A special capsule designed by the Chilean Navy to help extract 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground arrived at the San Jose mine on Saturday, sparking hope for the men's loved ones and supporters.

AFP - Painted in Chile's national colors of white, blue and red, the rescue capsule dubbed "Phoenix" is the last hope to pull 33 miners trapped deep underground to safety.

Built especially for the rescue operation at the Navy's construction sites, the capsule looks like a long, four-meter (13-foot) metallic cigar.

It has a 53-centimeter (21-inch) diameter with a cylindrical steel cage that will hoist each man up to the surface 700 meters (2,300 feet) above their underground shelter.

Engineers are hoping the very long and narrow case will carry the miners upwards to a new life, much like the phoenix of ancient mythology rose from the ashes to be born anew.

"We called it Phoenix because it will be like a rebirth, a new life for the miners," Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told reporters.

Despite the long wait until rescuers can begin pulling the men one by one -- by early November at the soonest -- the cage buoyed hopes in the makeshift campsite that sprung up after the August 5 cave-in.

"Chi, Chi, Chi, le, le, le. Viva Chile!" the crowd yelled out as it glimpsed the cylinder being unloaded on the site on Saturday.

It was the first of three capsules that will be used in the penultimate phase of the rescue, marking the end of a grueling underground ordeal that has already lasted nearly two months.

An Austrian-made hoisting system of pulleys and cranes will bring the cage slowly up the rescue shaft.

Engineers said each trip will take from one to one-and-a-half hours, with the entire rescue lasting more than 24 hours.

Golborne and workers entered the cage to explain the system to the miners' relatives. Some of them even entered the cages as well.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich told reporters that before the miners come to the surface, at least two people -- a mine rescue expert and a highly trained paramedic -- will descend to their shelter.

They will help each miner negotiate the long ride back up to the surface, he added.

The upper white section of the cylinder can be detached using three levers the miner can activate from inside the cage, Manalich explained.

Should the miner hit a snag during the ascent, he will be able to lower himself slowly back down to the shelter, with the help of wheels on the sides of the shaft.

Equipped with a helmet and gloves, each miner will also have water reserves, food, oxygen and a constant line of communication with rescue workers. Medical experts will monitor his heart rate and breathing constantly.

Meanwhile, three drilling machines continued tunneling their way down to the men. "The machines are working normally. There are no problems," said Golborne.

Of the three, the Strata-130 offers the earliest chance at a rescue. On Saturday, it reached 175 meters (575 feet) down as it widened an earlier guide shaft to the adequate size for the men.

Date created : 2010-09-26


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