81. Chilean Miners Crisis and Rescue - Lessons for Crisis and Disaster Management

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

What happened in Chilean Mininers Crisis and Resue ?

Chilean miners are rescued after 69 days underground. On October 13, 2010, the last of 33 miners trapped nearly half a mile underground for more than two months at a caved-in mine in northern Chile, are rescued. The miners survived longer than anyone else trapped underground in recorded history.

I. How This Disaster Happened ?

The disaster began on a day shift around lunchtime at a mine in Chile's Atacama Desert: Miners working deep inside a mountain, excavating for copper, gold and other minerals, started feeling vibrations. Suddenly, there was a massive explosion and the passage ways of the mine filled up with a gritty dust cloud.

When the dust settled, the men discovered the source of the explosion: "A single block of stone as tall as a forty-five-story building, had broken off from the rest of the mountain and had fallen through the layers of the mine , causing a chain reaction as the mountain above it began collapsing too."

Thirty-three miners were sealed inside the mountain by this "megablock" of stone, some 770,000 tons of it, "twice the weight of the Empire State building." Staring at that flat, smooth wall, Luis Urzua, the crew's supervisor, thought: "It was like the stone they put over Jesus's tomb."

If the beginning of this horror tale seems the stuff of legend or nightmare, the conclusion is reasurringly familiar, because some 1 billion of us viewers around the world watched it unfold on live TV.

Shaken miners close to the entrance soon made their way out, but 33 men working deep underground were trapped beneath some of the hardest rock on the planet.

Within hours of the accident, the country’s then recently elected president, Sebastián Piñera, dispatched his businessman-turned-mining-minister, Laurence Golborne, to assess it firsthand. The moment the president learned of the impending tragedy, the immense technical difficulties confronting the rescuers, and the mining company’s lack of capabilities and personnel, he realized that the government would have to take immediate charge of the rescue.

Pic: Laurence Golborne , Mining Minister, Chile.

Golborne was appointed Minister of Mining on March 11, 2010 by President Sebastián Piñera. As minister, he oversaw the 2010 Copiapó mining accident rescue operations. Golborne played a major role in Organisation and Assembling various teams and leading whole Resue Operations with prompt decisions.

But complications were nothing new to Mr. Golborne, who previously served as CEO of Cencosud S.A., a major clothing, hardware and grocery retailer that competes with Walmart across South America. Cencosud, he says, "had 100,000 employees operating in five countries. I am used to managing large groups of people to co-ordinate and organize things."

Accidents in underground mines are common, but this one was unprecedented on several dimensions: the depth at which the miners were entombed, the unstable rock formation, and the mine’s antiquity and notorious safety record, to name but a few. Two days later, after a second rockfall blocked ventilation shafts, experts estimated the probability of locating and rescuing the missing workers alive at less than 1%.

Yet on October 13, after spending a record 69 days underground at a depth of 2,300 feet, Los 33, as the miners had come to call themselves, emerged—fragile but alive. Once the last man had been winched to the surface, the rescue team held up a sign that read Misión Cumplida, Chile (Mission Accomplished, Chile), a sight seen by more than a billion TV viewers.

Pic : Andres Sougarret , Engineer behind Chile Rescue Operation

This Whole Diaster in details

The miners’ ordeal began on August 5, 2010, when the San Jose gold and copper mine where they were working, some 500 miles north of the Chilean capital city of Santiago, collapsed. The 33 men moved to an underground emergency shelter area, where they discovered just several days’ worth of food rations. As their situation grew more desperate over the next 17 days, the miners, uncertain if anyone would find them, considered suicide and cannibalism. Then, on August 22, a drill sent by rescuers broke through to the area where the miners were located, and the men sent back up a note saying, “We are fine in the refuge, the 33.” Food, water, letters, medicine and other supplies were soon delivered to the miners via a narrow bore hole.

Video cameras were also sent down, making it possible for rescuers to see the men and the hot, humid space in which they were entombed. As engineering and mining experts from around the world collaborated on the long, complex process of devising a way to bring the 33 men up to the surface, the miners maintained a system of jobs and routines in order to keep up morale.

Rescuers eventually drilled and reinforced an escape shaft wide enough to extract the men, one by one. (Employees of a Pennsylvania-based drilling-tool company played a role in drilling the rescue shaft.) On October 12, the first of the miners was raised to the surface in a narrow, 13-foot-tall capsule painted white, blue and red, the colors of the Chilean flag. The approximately 2,000-foot ascent to the surface in the capsule took around 15 minutes for each man.

The miners were greeted by a cheering crowd that included Chile’s president, Sebastian Pinera; media from around the world; and friends and relatives, many of whom had been camped at the base of the mine in the Atacama Desert for months. Millions of people around the globe watched the rescue on live TV. Less than 24 hours after the operation began, all 33 of the miners, who ranged in age from 19 to 63, had been safely rescued. Almost all the men were in good health, and each of them sported dark glasses to protect their eyes after being in a dimly lit space for so long. The rescued miners were later honored with trips to a variety of destinations, including England, Israel and Florida’s Walt Disney World, where a parade was held in their honor.

The San José rescue operation was an extraordinary effort, entailing leadership under enormous time pressure and involving teamwork by hundreds of people from different organizations, areas of expertise, and countries. People everywhere, watched it unfold with apprehension, amazement, and admiration. Its has become a wonderful story had to teach corporate executives about leading in difficult settings.

While different in detail, the challenges that the San José rescue team’s leadership tackled resemble those that senior executives often face in today’s turbulent business environment. At every turn, organizations must deal with threats to their prosperity and survival. Risks are poorly understood, and countermeasures are unclear. Even opportunities are difficult to decipher. The past provides little guidance about what will work in the future, and executives must learn rapidly and execute reliably under extreme time constraints. These factors can make situations chaotic, which is discouraging and, often, frightening.

II. Miners Resue Plan and Disaster Management

Context may have played a part in the decision; his predecessor had been criticized for responding too slowly to an earthquake in February 2010, and there was a growing aspiration in Chile to be seen as capable of doing great things. Against key political advisers’ recommendations and at significant political risk, Piñera flew to the mine site to meet a small group of family members and declare his unequivocal commitment to a rescue. His directive was clear: Bring home the miners, dead or alive, sparing no expense. Piñera thus articulated the gap between reality and hope, and made a pledge to close it.

III. How They have Planned and Executed this Rescue Operation ?

1. Chilean Mine Rescue Fast Facts

Here's a look at the 2010 rescue of 33 miners from a collapsed mine in the Atacama region of northern Chile.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne described for CNN the rescue efforts, the three holes - called Plan A, Plan B and Plan C - being dug in an effort to open a passageway to safety for the men. Plan A and Plan B each required two holes to be drilled - a small hole first and then a wider one about 26 to 28 inches (65-70 centimeters) in diameter. Golborne said the second pass would progress more slowly than the first pass.

Plan A involved using a drill placed directly above the shelter where the miners were holed up. Under Plan B, a hole was drilled at a roughly 80-degree angle into an area of the mine shaft that was used as a mechanical workshop. That distance, engineers estimated, was around 2,034 feet (620 meters). The drill used in Plan C needed to cut through some 1,969 feet (600 meters) of rock and earth.

Plan A drill was a Raise Borer Strata 950, usually used for drilling ventilation shafts in mines.

Plan B drill was a Schramm T-130, usually used for boring water holes.

Plan C drill was a Rig 421 drill, usually used for drilling for oil.

2. Comprehensive Details of Conceptualisation of Rescue Operation

Timelines and Chronology

August 5, 2010 - A collapse of the main ramp into the San Jose mine leaves 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground. Emergency officials are unable to communicate with the trapped miners.

August 6, 2010 - A statement from Chile's National Emergency Office says 130 people are working to rescue the miners.

August 7, 2010 - Rescuers face a setback when another cave in blocks the path they were using to reach the miners. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera travels to Copiapo, where the mine is located, to meet with officials.

August 22, 2010 - The miners send a note up tied to a probe which was lowered by authorities earlier in the day. Written in red ink, it reads, "We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us."

August 23, 2010 - A second probe reaches the miners. Rescuers are now capable of relaying communications and can send food and water to miners. Before this, the miners survive by sharing small amounts of tuna and mackerel that were in the shelter, along with water.

August 24, 2010 - Experts from NASA and Chilean navy submarine experts are called to help address the psychological toll the isolation can take on the miners.

August 26, 2010 - Miners send a video message to their families expressing thanks for the efforts underway to free them.

August 27, 2010 - Miners are told for the first time of the lengthy process rescuers expect it will take to extract them from the mine. Officials announce that they are working on a "Plan B," which could help speed up the rescue process.

August 29, 2010 - Each of the trapped miners is given about 20 seconds to speak directly with family members for the first time since the accident.

August 31, 2010 - Plan A drilling starts.

September 3, 2010 - The Schramm T-130 drill, otherwise known as Plan B, arrives at the rescue scene. The drill is usually used for boring water holes.

September 6, 2010 - Rescue officials temporarily stop the Plan B initial drill due to a damaged drill bit.

September 9, 2010 - Miners record a new video to show their families a glimpse of what their routines are like. The three minute clip shows them in good spirits.

September 14, 2010 - Elizabeth Segovia, wife of trapped miner Ariel Ticona, gives birth to a girl she names Esperanza, Spanish for hope.

September 17, 2010 - The Plan B bore hole reaches the 33 miners. However, the hole is only 12 inches wide and will need to be widened on a second pass.

September 22, 2010 - The Plan C drill starts drilling.

September 25, 2010 - The rescue capsule expected to haul the miners back to the surface arrives at the mine. Named the Phoenix, it's painted red, white and blue - the colors of the Chilean flag.

September 28, 2010 - The Plan B drill passes the halfway point to the trapped miners.

September 30, 2010 - Rescue crews successfully test the capsule. One test subject declares it "comfortable."

October 1, 2010 - Mining Minister Laurence Golborne announces that officials expect to reach the miners as early as mid October - sooner than previously expected. Crews could reach the miners between October 15 and October 30. Officials earlier prediction put the date as far away as November or Christmas.

October 5, 2010 - Rescuers say they are within 160 meters of the trapped miners.

October 6, 2010 - Two additional capsules and a winch, a device used for winding and tension adjustments, arrive at the mine site.

October 7, 2010 - A source close to rescue operations says the Plan B drill is now less than 100 meters from the target.

October 9, 2010 - The Plan B drill breaks through the roof of the mine.

October 12, 2010 - During a press conference, Mining Minister Golborne announces that the rescue is expected to begin during "the last quarter" of the day.

October 13, 2010 - The first miner rescued, Florencio Antonio Avalos Silva, 31, reaches the surface at about 12:11 a.m. ET. Shift foreman Luis Alberto Urzua Iribarren, 54, is the 33rd and final miner to be rescued, approximately 22 1/2 hours after the rescue operation begins.

July 25, 2011 - Representatives for the rescued miners announce that the official and authorized film rights to their story have been sold to producer Mike Medavoy.

August 30, 2011 - Fourteen of the miners are awarded lifetime monthly pensions of 250,000 Chilean pesos (approxima