Pa. company is part of 'Plan B' to rescue Chilean miners
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A Pennsylvania company has shipped drilling equipment to Chile for a new rescue attempt that could cut the estimated waiting time in half for the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped 2,300 feet underground since Aug. 5.
Brandon Fisher of Center Rock Inc. in Berlin, Somerset County, and other drilling experts from Pennsylvania and West Virginia are some of the masterminds behind a so-called rescue Plan B, said Bill Maloney, a drilling consultant in Morgantown, W.Va.
The group believes their proposal could free the miners in six to eight weeks. The current rescue plan is expected to take up to four months.
"When I saw the four-month estimates, I was flipping out," said Mr. Maloney, who owns Drill Leader Consulting in Morgantown.
Mr. Maloney said he started calling people in the drilling industry last week, and e-mails already were flying. The result was Plan B.
Center Rock built new drill bits and other parts that will fit a Chilean company's drilling rig so it can bore larger shaft openings.
Once the rig is fitted with the new parts, it could widen one of the mine's three bore holes from 5 1/8 inches to 12 inches within one to two weeks, making the shaft large enough to get more supplies to the men, Mr. Maloney said.
Within another four to six weeks, the rig should be able to increase the shaft width to 28 inches, big enough to bring the men out in an escape capsule.
It was not clear when -- or if -- the architects of the Plan B rescue attempt would get the go-ahead from the Chilean government to begin drilling. Mr. Fisher was handling most of those discussions, Mr. Maloney said, and he could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
But Mr. Maloney said he was confident the group would get the green light. He visited a medical center Tuesday for his inoculations and plans to be in Chile for a month or two.
"The tools are shipped and we are flying Friday," he said.
The drilling technique, called down hole hammer drilling, also can blow the rock out of the hole instead of dropping it into the mine.
Under the current operation, as the drilling machine bores through the rock, the rock drops into the shaft, where the fatigued miners have to haul it away in order to access the shaft. Chilean government officials have estimated the miners will have to move thousands of tons of rock from a shaft before they can escape.
Mr. Maloney co-founded and managed North American Drillers, North American Pump and Supply Co. and Shaft Drillers International. He sold his shares in 2006 and recently started his consulting business.
Mr. Fisher's Center Rock produces drilling equipment, including the drill bits that will penetrate extremely hard rock. The company's motto: "Drill Faster, Run Harder, Work Smarter."
First Published September 2, 2010 12:00 am