The Role of Teaming - and Canadians - in the Chilean Mine Rescue

miner coming up a ramp

Teaming is proactively building and developing a team even as a project is in progress. A recent article by Harvard's Amy Edmondson explains the critical role teaming played in the Chilean mine rescue of 2010.

In August 2010, 33 miners were trapped in Minas San Jose (San Jose mine) under 700 meters of granite. 700,000 tons of rock had collapsed in the mine, blocking the ramp and destroying the mine's ventilation shaft.

In an underground mine, there are generally two ways in and out: the ramp, and the elevator, if there is one. I was once in a mine elevator down to the 1,200 foot first level of a mine. It took 6 minutes, the only sound the creaking of the cable and the only sight water dripping down the rock face through the open window of the tiny enclosure. It was terrifying. All I could think of when I got down to the first level was how much rock was over my head.

At Minas San Jose, the elevator was not an option. After an elite special ops team failed twice to rescue the men by going down the mine ramp, the Chilean government began putting together its own team, first recruiting Codelco, which has a leading underground mine rescue team. After a week passed and attempts at going down the mine ramp failed, team lead Fidel Baez determined they would drill to get to the miners. And the teaming began, with experts arriving from Australia and other locations.

A breakthrough came 17 days after the collapse, when a Schramm T685 drill operated by Chilean company Terraservice hit an opening. When the drill was pulled back up, two notes were attached. One said “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33,” or we are fine in the refuge, all 33 of us.

Then the challenge became how to get the men out. The 14 centimeter drill hole would not suffice. Three completely differently drills and teams, dubbed Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, got to work. Plan A consisted of a Cementation Canada Strata 950 drill, with a team led by Cementation's Glen Fallon, from North Bay, Ontario, Canada. The Strata 950 was outfitted with a custom reaming head designed by Mining Technologies International in Sudbury, Ont. Plan B utilized a Schramm T-130 drill borrowed from the Collahuasi copper mine in Chile. Plan C consisted of a Rig 421 drill operated by a team of a dozen Canadians led by Shaun Robstad, a field superintendent at Calgary-based Precision Drilling Corp.

As obstacles were encountered, targets missed, and drill bits destroyed, the team reassessed each morning and throughout the day, taking information from each setback and utilizing new measurement technologies to redirect their drills. Ultimately, the Plan B drill was the first to reach the miners with a hole large enough to bring each miner out. All 33 men were successfully rescued, with shift foreman Luis Urzua the last miner lifted out.

Perhaps most important, the engineers did not take repeated failure as evidence that a successful rescue was impossible.
— Amy C. Edmondson, Harvard Business Review, January 2018

We are grateful for the Chilean government's determination, and the worldwide teaming that brought "los 33" home safe. We are also proud of the role Canadians and Canadian ingenuity played in this success story.

We will be at PDAC, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada show, to share our own ingenuity in the form of our SmartRFuel platform. SmartRFuel consists of hardware and software that saves 4-5% in fuel costs and helps keep miners safe through unique sensor intelligence about driver behaviour and truck maintenance needs. Contact Stephanie Alvarez at to meet her at the show and learn more.

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