Three U.S. companies showcased their engineering expertise as the world watched the dramatic rescue of 33 Chilean gold and copper miners trapped nearly a half-mile underground for more than two months. The miners miraculously survived an Aug. 5 shaft collapse at the San Jose mine in the Atacama desert about 500 miles north of Santiago.

American operators used U.S.-made rig and drill bits to bore an escape shaft to miners trapped underground since Aug. 5.
Photo: Courtesy Of Center Rock, Inc., Berlin, Pa.
American operators used U.S.-made rig and drill bits to bore an escape shaft to miners trapped underground since Aug. 5.

Layne Christensen Co., a Mission Woods, Kan.-based firm ranked 18th on ENR’s Top 200 Environmental Firms list, worked with its Chilean affiliate Geotec Boyles Bros. S.A., Santiago, to drill the 2,300-ft-deep shaft, which reached the trapped miners before those being drilled by two other companies.

The shaft drilled by Layne Christensen and Geotec cut two months off the originally estimated rescue schedule, which projected bringing the trapped miners out in December.

Center Rock Inc., Berlin, Pa., made the massive hard-rock drilling bits used to bore a 5-in.-dia pilot hole, then ream it to 12-in. and finally to 26-in. dia to accommodate the one-person rescue capsules used to carry miners up to the earth’s surface.

Geotec bored the shaft with a piece of equipment it already had on the job in Chile: the massive T130XD mobile drill rig, manufactured by Schramm Inc., West Chester, Pa.

Layne Christensen called on two of its best drill operators, Jeff Hart and Matt Staffel, to help bore the vital shaft. Before flying to Chile, Hart and Staffel had been drilling water wells for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

To help them, Layne Christensen also flew in Doug Reeves and Jorge Herrera, Spanish-speaking employees from the firm’s U.S. operation.

“It’s a first for our company to be involved in a rescue effort like this,” says Layne Christensen CEO Andrew Schmitt.

Drill-bit manufacturer Center Rock also sent experts to the site. Company owners Brandon and Julie Fisher and construction-equipment sales manager Richard Soppe all flew from the U.S. to the rescue site to lend their expertise to the effort.

CEO Brandon Fisher has previous experience in underground rescue, including the 2002 rescue of nine coal miners trapped for 78 hours in Pennsylvania’s Quecreek Mine, according to Becky Dorcon, Center Rock spokeswoman.

Dorcon says that, as soon as Fisher saw news of the collapse in August, he thought Center Rock’s hard-rock drilling bits and expertise might be helpful.

After Layne Christensen and Geotec completed the rescue shaft on Oct. 12, rescue experts tested the bullet-shaped Phoenix rescue capsule that would lift the 33 miners up the shaft to the earth�s surface one by one.

When testing was completed, mine rescue expert Manuel Gonzalez climbed into the Phoenix and was lowered 2,300 ft to the chamber where the miners waited for their turns to ride up the tunnel to freedom.

Gonzalez, and eventually five more rescue workers, traveled down into the mine to help prepare the miners for their trip to the surface.

By about 12:40 a.m., local time, on Thursday, Oct. 14, all of the miners and the six rescue experts had been lifted up the shaft to safety.

The original file was updated Oct. 14 at 10:30 a.m.