SANTIAGO – The miners who were trapped some 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground for 70 days at a mine in northern Chile said they informed management about the risk of a cave-in three hours before it occurred yet were not allowed to stop working and head to the surface.
A member of the congressional committee investigating the accident, Carlos Vilches, made the remarks Tuesday, adding that some of the rescued workers are prepared to testify at hearings about those pre-collapse warnings.
Vilches said Juan Illanes, one of the rescued miners, told him that in the hours prior to the Aug. 5 cave-in the workers warned that the rumblings inside the San Jose copper and gold mine were louder than usual and asked that they be allowed to return to the surface, but operations manager Carlos Pinilla denied that request.
“(Illanes) told me that at 11:00 a.m. they began to hear very loud noises. They asked to leave but permission was denied. They (the miners) think there was negligence by the owners and managers,” the lawmaker said.
“The conditions and the risks were well known, but those men acted like it was raining. The reasonable thing to do was to take them out (of the mine),” Vilches added.
Illanes’ version of events has been confirmed by fellow miners Jimmy Sanchez and Omar Reygadas. “The mine was making noises and they let us in, but I can’t talk more about that,” Sanchez told reporters.
“I was in a loader when (the cave-in) happened. Afterward I heard about the warning. It must have been the shift supervisor (Luis Urzua) or the foreman (Florencio Avalos). One of them contacted Pinilla. He knew very well what was happening in the mine, so he can’t deny it.”
The mine had been rumbling for several days. I’ll go before the investigations committee. It’s my duty,” Reygadas said.
Cristian Barra, an adviser to the Interior Ministry who was at the mine throughout the rescue operation, also said there were signs of an imminent cave-in.
“The opinion of experts at (state-owned copper miner) Codelco is that this didn’t happen from one minute to the next, but rather there were signs that a collapse could occur,” Barra told La Tercera daily.
Former San Jose employee Miguel Valenzuela told that same newspaper that his friend, Jorge Galleguillos, another of the 33 men rescued last Wednesday, told him the sliding of rocks and rumblings were incredibly violent.
Valenzuela added that on Aug. 4 a trucker from an outside firm providing services to the mine company warned Pinilla of an imminent cave-in at the mine.
The miners were trapped when an underground landslide caused hundreds of thousands of tons of rocks to collapse above them.
They survived for 17 days by carefully managing a meager emergency food supply at their ample underground shelter before rescuers made contact with them on Aug. 22 through a small bore hole and began sending them food, water, extra oxygen and medical supplies.
A hole big enough to fit a 13-foot-tall rescue capsule was then dug over several weeks and the 33 men were pulled out by pulley system one-by-one last Wednesday, ending the longest underground entrapment in recorded human history. EFE