Photo: Trapped Chilean miners
The prosecutor’s office of the northern Chilean region of Atacama has decided not to bring any criminal charges in the case of a 2010 mine collapse that left 33 miners trapped far underground for nearly 70 days.
“There was no conviction to formulate any charges” against the mine owners or the regional heads of the National Geology and Mining Service, Atacama chief prosecutor Hector Mella Farias said.
Laurence Golborne, who as mining minister coordinated the rescue of the miners, slammed the decision as “incredible,” while Socialist Sen. Isabel Allende said it was “painful” that no one would be held to account for the cave-in at the San Jose copper and gold mine, located near the northern Chilean city of Copiapo.
Golborne told Cooperativa radio that the mining service had instructed San Jose’s owners to set up an second exit for emergency purposes, but did not subsequently enforce compliance with the order.
Had that alternate exit been installed, the miners “would not have been trapped for 70 days.”
“It’s difficult to accept that the (Atacama) prosecutor’s office has not found anyone responsible,” Sen. Allende said, recalling that the miners had told her they could hear the mine “creaking and that they were somewhat afraid.”
The cave-in occurred on Aug. 5, 2010, and attracted global attention when the 33 miners were discovered alive 17 days later.
An elaborate operation ensued that culminated on Oct. 12-13 of that year with the trapped men being lifted one by one out of the mine over a period of 25 hours, an event broadcast around the world.
The miners were brought to the surface in a Chilean navy-built capsule that was built for that purpose and lowered and raised through a specially drilled escape shaft measuring 50 centimeters (just under 20 inches) in diameter.
Other smaller boreholes were drilled and used to provide the trapped miners food, clothing and communications gear.
The Atacama prosecutor’s office launched the investigation nearly three years ago to determine if there was any criminal responsibility for the accident.
The company that operated the mine reached a settlement with the Chilean government in the civil portion of the case, agreeing to pay $5 million to cover the cost of the rescue operation.