Copiapo, Chile (AFP) Sept 10, 2010
Scores of flatbed trucks began unloading a huge oil drilling machine Friday to dig a third rescue tunnel to 33 trapped miners, as one drill was nearly one-third of the way down and another lay idle for repairs.
The families of the trapped miners cheered and waved flags as they welcomed the first of 42 trucks that rolled in around 8:30 am (1230 GMT).
"These trucks are enormous," marveled Maria, sister of trapped miner Dario Segovia. "We were up all night here in the camp waiting for them."
Several of the six-axle trucks limped in with flat tires, a result of driving to the mine on a steep hillside dirt road filled with potholes and sharp rocks.
Their arrival was delayed as excavators and bulldozers had to broaden the entrance to the San Jose mine near Copiapo, a city some 800 kilometers north of Santiago, to accommodate the giant trucks.
The trapped miners have become national heroes since they were found alive on August 22, 17 days after a mine cave-in in the remote Atacama desert. The miners are trapped some 700 meters (2,300 feet) below the surface.
However euphoria over their discovery was dampened by news it could take months, possibly until Christmas, to drill a shaft to rescue the miners.
Rescuers are dropping food and water down narrow shafts to the miners to keep them alive, along with medicines and games to keep them healthy and occupied.
One of the delivery shafts Friday was fitted with a multi-use conduit reaching all the way down to the miners' shelter, providing them with permanent supplies of oxygen, water, and a telephone line.
"Now they can speak by telephone via the conduct," the lead engineer in the rescue effort, Andres Sougarret, told reporters Friday.
The trucks bringing the new equipment, designed to drill oil wells and operated by Canada's Precision Drilling, arrived from Iquique in waves because the camp work zone is too small to park them all together.
The giant drill "RIG-422" they were bringing can tunnel up to 2,000 meters below the surface at a speed -- depending on the density of the ground -- of between 20 and 40 meters a day, according to Chilean officials.
Officials have dubbed the effort "Plan C," and if all goes according to schedule workers will drill down just 597 meters (1,958 feet), shortening the rescue time to perhaps two months.
The drill requires a football-pitch sized base to set up and is expected to begin tunneling down toward the trapped miners around September 18, the bicentennial of Chile's independence from Spain, President Sebastian Pinera said over the weekend.
Separately, the main drilling machine involved in "Plan B" effort, a Schramm T-130, shut down for repairs late Wednesday after digging some 268 meters (880 feet), said Sougarret.
"We're still trying to remove" a broken part from the drill, he told reporters on Friday, adding that the repair would likely take another 48 hours.
The T-130 is working to widen an existing 630-meter (2,000 foot) shaft. Once the shaft is enlarged, workers will use an even wider drill bit and repeat the whole process to make a hole big enough to lower a special cage and pull up the workers one by one.
"Plan A" involves a smaller Strata 950 machine that aims to first bore a 33-centimeter (13-inch) wide pilot hole that will then be doubled using a special drill bit to 66 centimeters.
The Strata 950 has managed to drill 195 meters (640 feet) by Friday morning. "When it reaches 250-300 meters (820-985 feet) it'll have to stop" for routine parts changing, said Sougarret.
The trapped miners Friday received a message of support from six European Space Agency members who, like them, have been living in isolation inside a mock spaceship at a Moscow research institute, in an experiment to simulate a voyage to Mars.
This advice was offered to the miners: "Stay busy, be careful with your health and keep a normal day-night schedule."
earlier related report
"We have to wait for the ending, but what's already happened up to now is incredible... There's such a great story to tell here," Ortuzar told AFP in an interview.
"My idea is to craft a story focusing on this confinement and at the same time on the rebirth the miners will go through once they come to the surface."
He has already come up with a poster for the movie featuring a lone miner walking down a gloomy tunnel toward a distant patch of light, under the caption: "based on a true story."
Ortuzar even has a tentative opening date for the film, the second half of 2012.
Cameras are already rolling among the tents the families of the trapped miners pitched in the bone-dry Atacama desert outside the San Jose mine after the August 5 collapse that changed their lives. They call it "Camp Hope."
"We're filming at the camp as a way of observing what goes on there so we can recreate it later," said Ortuzar, who is unsure the camp images will make the final cut but certain in his intention: "we want to mix fiction with reality."
Rescue operators estimate it will take three to four months for any of three drilling machines to open a shaft big enough to extract the miners from their shelter, 700 meters (2,300 feet) below ground.
"We've got a great opportunity to create and develop a script during that time," said Ortuzar.
Camp Hope has taken on an unusual life of its own. No money is exchanged, yet there is no shortage of goods. It even includes a makeshift jail.
After the miners got word out they were alive on August 22, some of the families ended their vigil at the camp, returning now and again to check up on things. Others have vowed to stay put until their loved ones are rescued and in their arms.
"This is an incredible story. They're trapped at a depth of 700 meters and that's going to cause them a life change. A mini-society has cropped up in the meantime. It's all so unbelievable," he added.
With three movies under his belt -- "Yesterday's Dreams" (1989), "Mujeres Infieles" (Unfaithful Women) (2004) and "All Inclusive" (2008) -- Ortuzar is also working on another reality-based film about the earthquake and tsunami that devastated central Chile on February 12.
"When the mining accident happened, I said: 'here we've got yet another good story,'" he said explaining how real events for him can turn into creative inspiration.
Ortuzar said the movie is not just a profit-making business venture, responding to those who call him an opportunist taking advantage of a tragic situation.
To prove his point, he said he will donate all the takings of the movie in Chile to a special education fund that will be set up for the children of the trapped miners.
"It's going to be called 'The 33' because the number is almost mystical: there are 33 miners and 33 were the letters in the message" they sent up telling the world they were alive ("All 33 of us are well inside the shelter) -- it was written in Spanish.
So "the movie is going to last one hour and 33 minutes," Ortuzar promised.
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