The Irish twist in the Chile mining tale

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Scene of celebration as the last of the Chilean miner is rescued
Image caption,
The last of the Chilean miners to be rescued, Luis Urzua, embraces Chilean President Sebastian Pinera

The extraordinary rescue of 33 miners trapped underground in a mine in Chile has gripped people around the world.

But for one man in the Irish Republic, the twists and turns of the 69 day drama have had their own special resonance.

For Joe Purcell of the County Clare based Mincon company designed the drill which created the hole that led to the miners' survival.

They had been left 700m below ground with only 48 hours' worth of rations when part of the San Jose copper and gold mine in the Atacama Desert collapsed on 5 August.

Finally, after 17 days, the Mincon tool created the breakthrough that resulted in a note being drawn up from the miners which confirmed they were still alive.

Mr Purcell said he was delighted that they had now been rescued from their ordeal.

"It is a good feeling and obviously everybody in the firm is very happy and proud to have had an involvement in a good news story," he said.

"It is a tremendous feeling: obviously when there was the initial breakthrough there was a good feeling, but I think everybody who knows the industry knew then there was an awful lot of work to be done from that point to get to where we are today.

"I don't think anyone could have envisaged that it would have happened as fast as it did and I think it is great."

The 136mm wide hole was created by the reverse circulation drill after pounding the rock 2,000 times a minute over a five-day period.

It provided the basis for food, water and medical supplies to be delivered to the miners.

Mr Purcell said the Chilean government had since asked for the hammer and drill bit used in the operation to be displayed in the country's presidential palace.

"It is incredible," he said.

"I don't know if I will be invited to go out and look at it, I know what it looks like, I have spent a long time on it, I know every curve."

He designed the drill in 2006 and only two other firms in the world have produced a tool of similar capability.

"It is a combination of many years of working in the industry - the lightbulb switches on one day and you think that could work so you draw it up and make it," he added.


The technical director has followed in the footsteps of his father Paddy who founded Mincon in Shannon in 1977.

He said the company had grown into an international operation with plants in the US and Australia since its beginnings as a "spare parts" manufacturer in County Clare.

Mr Purcell also revealed how the cosmopolitan flavour of the firm had provided the Chilean story with another twist.

"One interesting aspect is that one of our machine supervisors here in Shannon is from Chile," he added.

"His family moved here in the 1970s, around the time General Pinochet took over in Chile, there would have been quite a few people who would have been socialists I suppose and a lot of those people settled in Ireland.

"He was quite young when he moved here and he has been with the company virtually since he left school and is a valued member of the team here.

"So Hugo was quite happy with the rescue."