Specialist miners prepare to begin their mission to rescue Julen Roselló

The brigade are waiting for the shaft into which they will be lowered to be completed, before they start digging the horizontal tunnel by hand in a bid to reach the two-year-old

The miners get ready to begin their rescue mission.
The miners get ready to begin their rescue mission.Paco Puentes
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In photos: The operation in Málaga to rescue Julen Roselló

At just after 8am on Tuesday morning, the members of the Mining Rescue Brigade appeared in the restaurant of the Hotel Rincosol – located in Rincón de la Victoria, Málaga – to have their breakfast. They were serious and focused. They headed off to bed early last night, more than aware of the job they have ahead of them.

They arrived in Málaga last Tuesday, traveling at high speed to their destination on a C295 military transport plane. Since then they have been analyzing the situation from all possible points of view with the aim of completing their mission: reaching Julen Roselló.

They have examined the location a number of times over the last week, taking in its composition, its complexity and its hardness

At 10am today they arrived in Totalán, traveling in three Civil Guard vehicles that took them to the vertical shaft via which they will travel underground. It’s a location that they have examined a number of times over the last week, taking in its composition, its complexity and its hardness.

“If this earth was tough for the machines, imagine what it’s going to be like on our arms,” one of the miners told local daily Sur on Tuesday. On the ground, they have been waiting patiently for the tubes that will shore up the vertical shaft to be inserted, a job that has been delayed due to small irregularities on the inner walls. At any time they could get a call to start work that could take an estimated 24 hours, although such time frames have proved to be of little use since the two-year-old fell down a 110-meter-deep borehole 10 days ago, given the numerous unexpected difficulties that have cropped up until now.

Everyone involved in the rescue effort in Totalán has confidence in the miners. “They’re the best,” explained Ángel García Vidal, the chief engineer of this “work of humanitarian civil engineering,” as he described the job on his hands. “And they are hugely specialized,” added Juan López-Escobar, a delegate from the Southern Official Association of Mining Engineers. The brigade, which is part of a public company called Hunosa, has been working for more than a hundred years in rescue work. No one has more experience than they do.

To guarantee the safety of these specialists, a platform will be installed next to the shaft into which they will descend, which measures barely 1.5 meters across. They will be lowered into the vertical tunnel – which runs parallel to the borehole in which Julen is thought to be trapped – in a structure that was built especially for the job last week by a blacksmith from nearby Alhaurín de la Torre. It measures 1.05 meters across, and is 2.5 meters high. It weighs around 300 kilos and was designed by Julián Moreno, the technical director of the Provincial Firefighting Consortium. The capsule will work as an elevator and will be suspended from a crane.

If this earth was tough for the machines, imagine what it’s going to be like on our arms

A member of the mining rescue team

Two miners will descend into the shaft using the bespoke elevator, carrying their equipment. They will do so in shifts that will last between one and two hours, in a bid to ensure that fatigue does not slow down the rhythm of the work. “Down there they need to be at 100%, nothing less will do,” Santiago Suárez, the head of the Mining Rescue Brigade between 2005 and 2009, told EL PAÍS.

Given that the entrance to the shaft is 11 meters below the borehole into which Julen fell, they will have to travel to a depth of 61 meters, which is at the level where exploratory cameras found a plug of earth, under which the child is thought to be located. Once at the bottom of the vertical tunnel, they will find a small window in one of the tubes that have been used to shore up the internal walls. That will be their workspace.

With great difficulty, they will have to excavate a horizontal tunnel measuring between three and four meters long. They will do so along a gentle upward incline, so that the rubble they clear will travel toward the elevator, where it will fall through the grill at the bottom of the platform, and onto the ground below.

With great difficulty, they will have to excavate a horizontal tunnel measuring between three and four meters long

They will be using manual methods, such as picks, as well as mechanical tools, such as jackhammers. While explosives are often used in mining, in this case they have been ruled out given the risks they entail. As they dig into the ground, they will use wooden posts to shore up the tunnel.

A number of geologists have been working with members of the mining brigade in a bid to anticipate the terrain that they will find in the shaft. But once they are down there they will be on their own. They are the last link in a chain that was first forged 10 days ago, in a bid to achieve a never-before-seen feat. Never have there been so many determining factors in a rescue mission against the clock.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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