Rescue's risks played down - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Rescue's risks played down

The operation started just before midnight, when a Codelco rescuer made the sign of the cross and was lowered to the trapped men. A navy paramedic went down after Avalos came up -- a surprise improvisation as officials had said the two would go down to oversee the miners' ascent before the first went up.

The last miner was slated to be shift foreman Luis Urzua, whose leadership was credited with helping the men endure the first two and a half weeks without outside contact. The men made 48 hours' worth of rations last before rescuers reached them with a narrow bore hole to send down more food.

Janette Marin, sister-in-law of miner Dario Segovia, said the order of rescue didn't matter.  "This won't be a success unless they all get out," she said.

Chilean officials played down the risks of the rescue.  Panic attacks during the ascent, they said, were the biggest concern. The miners were not sedated -- they needed to be alert in case something went awry. Manalich said rescuers could accelerate the capsule to its maximum speed of 3 meters per second if necessary.

Rescue coordinator Andre Sougarett told The Associated Press beforehand that the worst technical problem would be the possibility that "a rock could fall" and jam the capsule in the shaft.

But Davitt McAteer, who directed the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration, said there were many risks: A miner could get claustrophobic and somehow jam the capsule, the cable could get hung up, or the rig that pulls the cable could overheat.

"You can be good and you can be lucky. And they've been good and lucky," McAteer told the AP just before the operation commenced. "Knock on wood that this luck holds out for the next 33 hours."

The CEO of the Austrian company that made the capsule's winch and pulley system said there was no danger of the motor overheating because the winch was not working under maximum capacity.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, whose management of the crisis has made him a media star in Chile, insisted all risks had been considered.  "There is no need to try to start guessing what could go wrong.  We have done that job," Golborne said. "We have hundreds of different contingencies."

McAteer said he gave "very high marks" to the Chileans for creating lowered expectations by saying that it might take until Christmas to rescue the men -- and then consistently delivering results ahead of schedule.

"Second, they have had very few technical problems," he said. Rescuers finished reinforcing the top of the escape shaft Monday, and capsules descended flawlessly in tests.

Three capsules were built by Chilean navy engineers, named Phoenix for the mythical bird that rises from ashes and painted in the white, blue and red of the national flag. Only one has been used in the rescue.

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