New video gives tour of trapped miners' refuge

COPIAPO, Chile Camping just outside the entrance to the mine, those waiting for the miners' return said they were elated after seeing their loved ones -- and that the men appeared to be in better shape than thought.

"It's entirely the opposite of what I thought!" said Antonio Bugueno, whose brother Carlos is one of those trapped. "I thought he would look much worse. But he appeared strong of heart and mind."

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

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. They also showed off areas outside the shelter where they can walk around.

The miners were trapped by an Aug. 5 collapse, and rescuers established contact with them 17 days later by drilling a 6-inch-wide (15-centimeter-wide) hole to the shelter. Rescuers are working to drill an escape tunnel that will be about 26 inches (66 centimeters) wide and could take weeks or months to complete.

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."

Bugueno said his brother was sitting at the table where men had laid out the dominoes.

"He didn't say anything in the video, but that is his way, he is a man of few words. For that reason, I know he is basically his same old self," Antonio Bugueno said of Carlos, 27, who has worked in the mine for more than a year. "He has always been camera shy, and I noticed that he turned away from the camera when it was pointed at him."

The camera used to make the video 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.

At one point the footage shows a close-up of a thermometer reading 29.5 degrees Celsius (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.

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.

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 © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.