Associated Press, Published August 27 2010
New video gives tour of trapped miners' refuge
Only about five minutes of what is reportedly a 45-minute video was released late Thursday by Television Nacional de Chile via the Chilean government.
The men made the video with a small camera sent down to them through a small emergency shaft drilled to their emergency shelter deep in the San Jose mine.
The grainy, night-vision images show some men standing, others lying down and apparently just waking up. One man proudly displays the way they have organized the living room-sized shelter where they took refuge after a landslide trapped them Aug. 5. They also showed off areas outside the shelter where they can walk around.
An animated miner gives a guided tour through the ample space where the men have plenty of room to stand and lie down. He shows where the men meet and pray daily and points out the "little cup to brush our teeth."
"We have everything organized," he says.
The few items they have are carefully laid out: a first aid cabinet, shelves holding unidentified bottles, mats in a corner for rest.
As the camera shows a table with dominoes laid out, the tour guide says that "this is where we entertain ourselves, where we play cards."
"We meet here everyday," he adds. "We plan, we have assemblies here everyday so that all the decisions we make are based on the thoughts of all 33."
The camera was sent down through a bore-hole used for communications. Another small hole that snakes down to the men's shelter is used for lowering food and a third provides ventilation.
Many of the miners appeared in the video wearing their hard hats. As the camera pans to them, some flash peace signs, wave and smile. Others look groggy as if just awakened.
"Greetings to my family! Get us out of here soon, please!" says one unidentified man.
At one point the footage shows a close-up of a thermometer reading 29.5 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit).
Another man displays what psychiatrists have said is a key trait to keeping the men motivated and optimistic — a sense that they have a role in their own destinies.
"There are a large number of professionals who are going to help in the rescue efforts from down here," the man says.
What the men may not know is that the mining company that hired them is doing nothing to join them in a rescue. The San Esteban company says it can't afford to pay their wages and may go bankrupt.
San Esteban is in such bad shape that it has neither the equipment nor the money to rescue the men; Chile's state-owned mining company is going to drill the escape tunnel, which will cost about $1.7 million.
In the days after the tunnel collapse at the gold and copper mine, company leaders defended their safety measures, but have since gone mum and attempts to reach anyone at San Esteban were not successful.
Earlier this week, lawyers for the small mining company said that with the mine shut down, and no income coming in, the company was at a high risk for bankruptcy.
How such a financially unstable business was allowed to operate is a question that is putting one of Chile's top industries under the microscope, exposing a dark underside of questionable regulation that may ultimately reflect more on government priorities than one rogue company.
Sen. Baldo Prokurica, who is on the Senate mining committee, says he has been pushing Congress for years to increase the number of inspectors for the state regulatory agency, Sernageomin. It has only 18, he said, which makes regulating the country's several hundred mines a daunting task.
"The government has abandoned (the regulator)," Prokurica said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If you look at the laws, they are good. We need to enforce the laws, not make more laws or increase fines."
Prokurica said the mine operator had a poor safety record. In 2007, company executives were charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of a miner. The worker's family settled, but the mine was closed until it could comply with key safety regulations, said Prokurica.
In 2008, the mine reopened even though the company apparently hadn't complied with all the regulations, he said, adding that the circumstances surrounding the reopening are being investigated.
President Sebastian Pinera has fired top regulators and created a commission to investigate the accident and the agency. Since the collapse, the agency has shut down at least 18 small mines for safety violations, a possible sign that lax safety measures are open secrets at many mines.
On Thursday, the first of many expected lawsuits against San Esteban and the government were filed, and a judge ordered the retention of $1.8 million of company money in anticipation of the suits.
Despite advances in technology and increased emphasis on safety — at least publicly — mining remains a dangerous profession.
Since 2000, about 34 people have died every year on average in mining accidents in Chile, with a high of 43 in 2008, according to a review of Sernageomin data.
The agency declined interview requests, citing the investigation and internal overhaul that Pinera ordered.
Associated Press writers Federico Quilodran in Copiapo, Eduardo Gallardo in Santiago, and Michael Warren in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.