Engineering a Mine Rescue

Engineering a Mine Rescue
December 19, 2019 Prime Engineering

On October 13th 2010, the world breathed a sigh of relief as 33 miners were rescued from the depths of a copper mine in San Jose, Chile. As a result of a cave-in, the 33 men were trapped 5 km from the entrance of the mine and 700m underground for a shocking 69 days. In a confined space similar in size to a one-bedroom apartment, at a temperature of around 32℃, the men only had 2 days worth of food supplies to begin with. After 17 days, rescuers finally made contact with them using a small drill hole through which they could pass notes and supplies. On the outside, countries all over the world were rallying to orchestrate a rescue mission.

The Life-Saving Capsule

The Fenix 2 capsule was created by the Chilean Navy in conjunction with engineers at NASA in order to rescue the Chilean miners. Each miner would be individually strapped into the capsule and pulled through a drilled tunnel for a painstaking 10-15 minutes. Engineers equipped the vessel with audio and video links so that they could communicate with each miner as they were being pulled above ground. They also had oxygen supplies and heart rate monitors built in, as well as a trap door and rope in case the unthinkable happened and the vessel got stuck mid-rescue. This was a true feat of engineering. However, the problem was that the actual tunnel through which the capsule was to be sent, was still months away from being completed.

A Solution

Upon hearing that the miners wouldn’t be rescued until Christmas, a man named Brendan Fischer decided to offer help. Fischer is the owner of an American engineering company, named Center Rock, who are specialists in drilling holes for oil, gas and water. He knew that their machinery and team of experts would be capable of drilling the hole quicker.

There was an existing 5.5inch hole which had already been drilled by rescuers. Center Rock was capable of first widening this hole to 12 inches at which stage the hole could be further widened to 26 inches which would be big enough to fit the rescue capsule through.

A Problem

At around a depth of 200m, the drill which Center Rock was using, stopped working. After speculation that they had hit a piece of iron in the mine, the drill line was pulled up above the ground and the rescue engineers discovered that the front end of the bit was missing. They then carried out a thorough analysis of the drill bit using engineering software simulations to ensure that calculations and stress-levels had been accurately calculated. Satisfied that they had resolved the issue, the engineers continued the rescue mission.

The Result

After a rescue mission lasting 22 hours in total, every single miner was retrieved safely from the depths of the mine whilst millions of people around the world watched a live stream online. The shift foreman, Luis Urzua was the final man to be rescued. Unbelievably, none of the miners emerged with life-threatening illnesses or health problems.

At Prime Engineering, we are inspired on a daily basis by the life-changing potential of engineering. This is what motivates us to strive towards a better world. We believe in designing and manufacturing the highest quality products which will solve even the greatest of challenges. To learn more about how we can help you, contact us today!