A leading mining expert has expressed confidence that the 33 trapped miners in Chile will survive the four-month ordeal they face before being rescued, but said it was essential to keep their spirits up.
Contact was made yesterday with the miners trapped by a collapse in the roof of the mine, located outside the northern Chilean city of Copiapó, on 5 August. But they face an agonising wait while a larger borehole is drilled to the bottom of the San José mine to rescue them.
Dave Feickert, a mining safety expert from New Zealand currently working in China to improve the country's accident-prone mines, said that the men's morale was key.
"They can survive with support from the surface," he said. "They'll be able to have food and water, messages. They're even talking about them being able to send video. As long as they have enough air, they should be all right. They will create a community of their own but I expect some of them will have a very tough time, particularly if they're not experienced."
Feickert, who won China's friendship prize for foreign experts last year, said the fact that they were being led by an apparently experienced miner – 63-year-old Mario Gomez, who sent a message to the surface saying, "We'll surely come out OK" – was positive because he would be able assist his less experienced colleagues.
The former National Union of Mineworkers researcher said the men's physical safety should be assured as it seemed there was no danger from further rockfalls. He said lamps should last "quite a while" provided they use them sparingly.
While he acknowledged that conditions would be tough more than half a kilometre below the ground, he compared the miners' situation to that of workers on a submarine, albeit in less comfortable conditions.
"Some people in China have been found after several weeks underground in conditions much worse," he said.
Feickert said the technique being employed to rescue them was a sound one that had been used successfully in the past. "What they're going to do is use a proven technique used in the US before to rescue people from Quecreek" he said, in reference to nine miners in Pennsylvania who where were rescued alive in 2002 after being trapped for more than three days. "They'll drill another borehole that will be wide enough to bring out one man at a time. The borehole that has found them should be a good guide to get that larger borehole. The main factor is how deep they are trapped and the type of rock."