Video: Camera sent down mine reveals life of trapped miners

  1. Transcript of: Camera sent down mine reveals life of trapped miners

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (New Orleans): Back now from the Ninth Ward in New Orleans . And far from here in Chile , we're getting a fascinating look at what life is like for those 33 miners trapped way underground, living together in a small space while waiting to be rescued, a risky process that could take months. Crews above ground sent a tiny camera down through the bore hole and, as our own Tom Costello reports, the miners sent it back with images of what life is like for them down there.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Chanting and singing deep inside the hot, humid mine, the 33 trapped miners appear shirtless, unshaven, dirty and 20 pounds lighter after three weeks underground.

    Unidentified Man #1:

    COSTELLO: 'Hello to my family, my daughter,' this miner says.

    Unidentified Man #2:

    COSTELLO: Another says, 'Even though the conditions aren't good, we're OK because we know that we're going to get out of here .' We now know the area the miners are living in is much larger than just a 30x20-foot refuge chamber. The men can move through open sections of the mine that are big enough to hold several trucks, though ventilation is not always good. Some areas of the mine have been set aside for exercise, a clinic, and because sanitation is critical, a remote section is set aside as the latrine. A table set aside to play cards and dominoes. Above ground, rescuers send down clean water, food and oxygen, while family members hold vigil.

    Unidentified Boy: I love my dad.

    COSTELLO: Telemundo 's Angie Sandoval is there.

    ANGIE SANDOVAL reporting: They're very happy, but also concerned because some of the men appear very thin.

    Ms. ELIZABETH SEGOVIA (Trapped Miner's Sister): If God gave us the patience and the strength when we didn't know if they were alive, now there's even more reason to be strong.

    COSTELLO: The men are still joking at times about how badly each of them smells. And they've established rules and schedules, knowing full well their physical and mental health will be put to the test over the coming months. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.

Gallery: Miner profiles, first moments of freedom

Read about each of the 33 miners as they are rescued.

AP
An image from a video released by Chilean television on Thursday shows one of the trapped miners in the underground chamber waving at the camera.
msnbc.com news services
updated 8/27/2010 5:27:43 AM ET 2010-08-27T09:27:43

The first video released of the 33 workers trapped deep in a Chilean mine shows the men stripped to the waist and appearing slim but healthy, arm-in-arm, singing the national anthem and yelling "long live Chile, and long live the miners!"

The men made the video with a small camera sent down to them through a small emergency shaft drilled to their emergency shelter deep in the San Jose mine.

The grainy, night-vision images show some men standing, others lying down and apparently just waking up.

One man proudly displays the way they have organized the living room-sized shelter where they took refuge after a landslide trapped them Aug. 5. They also showed off areas outside the shelter where they can walk around.

An animated miner gives a guided tour through the ample space where the men have plenty of room to stand and lie down. He shows where the men meet and pray daily and points out the "little cup to brush our teeth."

"We have everything organized," he says.

The few items they have are carefully laid out: a first aid cabinet, shelves holding unidentified bottles, mats in a corner for rest.

As the camera shows a table with dominoes laid out, the tour guide says that "this is where we entertain ourselves, where we play cards."

"We meet here everyday," he adds. "We plan, we have assemblies here everyday so that all the decisions we make are based on the thoughts of all 33."

'Greetings to my family'
The camera was sent down through a bore-hole used for communications. Another small hole that snakes down to the men's shelter is used for lowering food and a third provides ventilation.

Many of the miners appeared in the video wearing their hard hats. As the camera pans to them, some flash peace signs, wave and smile. Others look groggy as if just awakened.

"Greetings to my family! Get us out of here soon, please!" says one unidentified man.

Story: Miner profiles, first moments of freedom

At one point the footage shows a close-up of a thermometer reading 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another man displays what psychiatrists have said is a key trait to keeping the men motivated and optimistic — a sense that they have a role in their own destinies.

"There are a large number of professionals who are going to help in the rescue efforts from down here," the man says.

Only about five minutes of what is reportedly a 45-minute video was released late Thursday by Television Nacional de Chile via the Chilean government.

Battling boredom
Offers to help the miners stave off boredom have also flooded in.

The trapped men could get videos of Maradona and other soccer greats to beat boredom in the coming months.

Engineers plan to send miniature projectors and entertainment equipment to help them cope with the agonizing wait ahead.

Farmer Wilson Avalos was selecting soccer videos for two of his nephews trapped 2,300 feet vertically down in a hot and humid tunnel.

"We will send them videos of Diego Armando Maradona, Ronaldinho and Pele, because they are huge soccer fans," Avalos told Reuters. "I'm sure that will really help them keep their spirits up."

The government is bringing in NASA experts for tips on how to help the miners, who have exchanged written notes with their relatives on the surface, cope with lengthy confinement.

Firm may go bankrupt
What the men may not know is that the mining company that hired them is doing nothing to join them in a rescue. The San Esteban company says it can't afford to pay their wages and may go bankrupt.

San Esteban is in such bad shape that it has neither the equipment nor the money to rescue the men; Chile's state-owned mining company is going to drill the escape tunnel, which will cost about $1.7 million.

In the days after the tunnel collapse at the gold and copper mine, company leaders defended their safety measures, but have since gone mum and attempts to reach anyone at San Esteban were not successful.

Earlier this week, lawyers for the small mining company said that with the mine shut down, and no income coming in, the company was at a high risk for bankruptcy.

How such a financially unstable business was allowed to operate is a question that is putting one of Chile's top industries under the microscope, exposing a dark underside of questionable regulation that may ultimately reflect more on government priorities than one rogue company.

Sen. Baldo Prokurica, who is on the Senate mining committee, has said he has been pushing Congress for years to increase the number of inspectors for the state regulatory agency, Sernageomin.

It has only 18, he said, which makes regulating the country's several hundred mines a daunting task.

"The government has abandoned (the regulator)," Prokurica said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If you look at the laws, they are good. We need to enforce the laws, not make more laws or increase fines."

Poor safety record
Prokurica said the mine operator had a poor safety record. In 2007, company executives were charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of a miner. The worker's family settled, but the mine was closed until it could comply with key safety regulations, said Prokurica.

In 2008, the mine reopened even though the company apparently hadn't complied with all the regulations, he said, adding that the circumstances surrounding the reopening are being investigated.

President Sebastian Pinera has fired top regulators and created a commission to investigate the accident and the agency. Since the collapse, the agency has shut down at least 18 small mines for safety violations, a possible sign that lax safety measures are open secrets at many mines.

On Thursday, the first of many expected lawsuits against San Esteban and the government were filed, and a judge ordered the retention of $1.8 million of company money in anticipation of the suits.

Despite advances in technology and increased emphasis on safety — at least publicly — mining remains a dangerous profession.

Since 2000, about 34 people have died every year on average in mining accidents in Chile, with a high of 43 in 2008, according to a review of Sernageomin data.

The agency declined interview requests, citing the investigation and internal overhaul that Pinera ordered.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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