Chile miners wanted to evacuate before collapse: lawmaker

The accounts suggesting that managers knew the San Jose Mine was unstable but did not act emerged a week after all 33 of the workers were pulled alive from the gold and copper mine after 69 days underground.

Chilean MP Carlos Vilches, a member of a parliamentary committee investigating the disaster, said miner Juan Illanes told him that the workers asked to be allowed to surface three hours before the mine collapse. "He told me: the morning of the accident, at about 11 am, the mine began to signal that there were problems because deep, big noises began, and they resonated within the mine because there are many chambers.

"We warned and we asked permission to leave the mine, but they didn't let us," Vilches told AFP yesterday, quoting Illanes. Several of the miners have filed a lawsuit against the Chilean company that operated the mine, and claims that an evacuation plea was rejected are likely to figure in the case.

Vilches said he did not know who the miners warned about the rumblings, but he has invited them to tell his committee what happened to determine who was responsible. He said four or five miners were expected to testify.

The lawmakers said Illanes gave his account of what happened while he was undergoing a medical evaluation at the Copiapo hospital the day after his rescue.
Illanes' version of events was confirmed by two other miners, Pablo Rojas and Jorge Galleguillos, Vilches said. A similar version of the pre-collapse events was recounted by two other miners, Jimmy Sanchez and Omar Reygadas, in local media reports.

"The mine was reverberating (with sound) and yet they let us in. But I can't talk more about that," said Sanchez, who at 19 is the youngest of the rescued miners.
Reygadas told reporters that the shift chief Luis Urzua or the foreman Florencio Avalos called the mines' operations manager, Carlos Pinilla, about the rumblings.
Pinilla "knew very well what happened in the mine," Reygadas said. "For several days (the rock) was cracking," said Reygadas, adding that he would testify before the parliamentary committee.

"The mine was told early on that there could be a serious accident but that was not taken into account," Vilches told El Mercurio newspaper.

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