Two Miners Trapped, Two Dead in Colombia

By Alix Rovi
Alix Rovi
Alix Rovi
October 18, 2010 Updated: October 18, 2010

While the world celebrates the rescue of 33 miners in Chile last week, in Colombia the dangers of mining were again highlighted by the unsuccessful attempts to rescue two miners and the deaths of two others in separate mines in the country.

Rescue workers in the village of Tasco, in the northeastern department of Boyacá, Sunday, began digging a fourth tunnel in an attempt to rescue two miners trapped after an explosion caused the collapse of a coal mine last Tuesday.

About 10 minutes after the collapse of the la Esperanza mine, three miners who escaped the cave-in were able to hear the voices of John Fredy Ordóñez and Alfonso Barrera calling for help.

Rescue workers immediately began digging a second tunnel parallel to the caved-in shaft but encountered a rock that stopped operations from reaching the men trapped 60 meters (197 feet) underground.

On Thursday, a second explosion in the mine suspended operations on the second tunnel, and authorities said that the likelihood of finding the miners alive was greatly reduced. The miners’ families, however, still held on to a sliver of hope that the men would somehow survive.

“Only a miracle of God will let them leave the mine alive,” said Edgar Ordóñez, John Fredy’s cousin on Friday. Edgar Ordoñez traveled to Tasco to help with rescue operations.

After a third explosion in the third tunnel Saturday, the coordinator of the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining (INGEOMINAS), Mauricio Flechas, said rescue teams would have to create a fourth entry tunnel. Operations on the fourth tunnel began Sunday.

André Sougarret, the head of the rescue team that successfully brought 33 Chilean miners to safety last week, offered to help with the efforts. The director of the Colombian Red Cross Sunday said that Colombia’s rescue teams are able to handle the operations.

Contradictions

Media reports on the contact with the miners are contradictory. After the second explosion, the Colombian Mines and Energy minister, Carlos Noriega Road, was not optimistic about the miners’ chances of survival: “The truth is, while the search continues, we are not optimistic with the fate of these two miners. We do not believe they have been able to survive.”

In an interview with the local Caracol Radio Friday, Luis Fernando Piñeros, director of Boyacá’s Civil Defense, also said there had been no signs of life.

But the mayor of Tasco, Edwin Javier Manrique, said Friday that he believes that one of the two miners is alive. “We have indications that one of them is alive. We also hope that the other miner is still alive too. Only one has given us signals.”

According to Manrique, miner John Freddy Ordóñez “has received water and other beverages that he requested, through a hose.”

A group of doctors, family, and rescuers remains in the place pending further developments.

A gas explosion in a mine in the northeastern province of Caldas killed one miner and injured another this past week. And a second miner was killed by rockfall in a mine in Boyacá Province.

In June, an explosion in a mine in the province of Antioquia killed 73 miners.

Alix Rovi