Probe fails to reach trapped Chilean miners, hopes fade

AFP – A drill probe seeking to determine whether 33 miners trapped for two weeks in a Chilean mine were still alive failed to make contact with the workers, President Sebastian Pinera said Thursday.

“Unfortunately the most advanced probe did not make contact with the miners,” Pinera said in Santiago.

The relief duct was drilled down to 730 meters (2,400) underground, where it was hoped the miners were able to reach an emergency shelter after the mine collapsed, but it didn’t intersect with the shelter.

“We were very hopeful,” Pinera added. “Sadly… we didn’t reach the target.”

The miners have been trapped since August 5 in the San Jose gold and copper mine near the northern city of Copiapo. They have not been heard from since the entrance of the mine collapse.

Engineers have sought to funnel down plastic tubes known as “doves,” which contain water and food, through the relief ducts being drilled down towards the shelter.

Authorities attributed the failure to trouble correctly assessing the topography of the 120-year-old mine, whose blueprints have not been updated for years.

“We did not get to the shelter gallery, because we had an imprecise reading of the topography,” said Andrew Sougarret, the engineer in charge of the rescue work.

Exact precision is needed in such drilling, as a one-degree shift by a probe will result in a deviation of 10 meters at a depth of 700 meters, experts said.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne sought to put a brave face on the setback, even describing it as a “breakthrough” because the progress was “a practical demonstration that the engineering that we are using is able to get that close.”

Advances in the drilling progress this week had renewed hope among relatives of the miners, many of whom have held a vigil outside the site since shortly after a landslide buried the workers.

But Pinera’s bad news dampened already fading hopes for finding the miners alive.

“We are frustrated,” Maria Segovia, a relative of one of the miners, told local media.

Rescuers were continuing with drilling operations in eight other drill shafts.

If communication with survivors is indeed established, authorities say they would need to construct tunnels large enough to pull the miners out, and that work would likely take months.


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