Latin America & Caribbean

Chilean politician alleges miners' warnings 'ignored'

A police officer stands guard by the capsule outside the presidential palace in Santiago
Image caption The Chilean Navy has patented the name and design of the rescue capsule

A Chilean politician has alleged that on the day the San Jose mine collapsed trapping 33 men, workers voiced safety fears but were told to stay on shift.

Deputy Carlos Vilches said one of the miners had told him that managers refused their request to surface some three hours before the disaster.

Mr Vilches said miner Juan Illanes had heard unusual noises in the mine.

A lawyer acting for the mining company, Hernan Tuane, told the BBC that the accusations were completely false.

Mr Vilches, who is on the commission investigating the 5 August collapse, said he had spoken to several of the miners as they were being treated in hospital following their rescue last week.

"One of them, without being prompted, said: 'Don Carlos, I want you to know that three hours before the accident, at 11 in the morning, we heard loud and unusual noises inside the mine," Mr Vilches said.

Mr Vilches said the miner, Juan Illanes, had told him they asked to be allowed to leave but their request was denied.

Mr Illanes has not spoken directly to the media.

Mr Vilches, who is a deputy from the region where the mine is located, said he did not know who the miners had warned about the noises but said he would be calling Mr Illanes and other miners to testify to the commission.

This version of events was contradicted by lawyer Hector Tuane, who is acting for the San Esteban mining company. He said he had spoken to the operations chief at the mine, Carlos Pinilla.

"He told me first hand that the accusation is completely false. He said at no point did the mine show any abnormal or defective characteristics that would have made it necessary for the miners to be pulled out of the mine at the time they were said to have made the request," Mr Tuane said in a BBC interview.

Capsule on display

Chilean media also carried a public denial by Mr Pinilla and the mine's general manager, Pedro Simunovic.

Image caption Richard Villarroel was rescued in time for the birth of his baby son

"No worker or shift leader communicated to us, who were responsible for mine operations at the time, any concerns about unusual noises or explosions, and there was no request to abandon the mine on account of some presumed risk," they said.

"We must once again insist that never did any of us have the slightest indication that such a catastrophe as the one on 5 August could happen."

Compensation claims have been filed and more lawsuits are expected in the wake of the 5 August collapse.

On Tuesday, the Phoenix 2 capsule used to bring the miners to the surface went on display outside the presidential palace in Santiago.

The Chilean Navy has announced that it has patented the capsule's name and design.

The aim, according to Admiral Edmundo Gonzalez, was "so that the Navy can not only sell this capsule in cases where a similar kind of rescue is needed but also to control to some degree the proliferation of copies".

And nearly a week after he was rescued, miner Richard Villarroel on Tuesday became a father with the birth of his son, Richard Fernando, Chilean website La Tercera reported.

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