COPIAPÓ, Chile – When he saw the first sketches in a newspaper, Alejandro Publete called his fellow engineers at Chile’s national copper company CODELCO and told them that the capsule they proposed could not be used for the rescue.
“The first sketches were rudimentary,” said Publete, a 60-year-old resident of the central Chile city of Rancagua.
The engineers at CODELCO called him, and in a few days he was designing the Fénix capsule, which was built by the Docks of the Chilean Army (ASMAR).
Publete, in an exclusive interview with Infosurhoy.com, discusses the design of the capsule and the unprecedented rescue of the 33 miners who spent 10 weeks trapped inside the San José gold and copper mine.
In four days, we had the capsule ready
Infosurhoy.com: What was your inspiration for the capsule?
Alejandro Publete: There were several design parameters that were taken into account, including diameter and length. But the main concept was that [the capsule] must not get stuck traveling to the bottom of the mine to reach the miners. I made a model with an empty toilet paper roll and other materials and created a system that would allow the miners to go out through the lower part of the capsule, if needed.
Infosurhoy.com: How did you got involved with rescue?
Alejandro Publete: When I saw a blueprint in a newspaper of the capsule they planned to build, I knew it was not going to work. I called the rescue team at CODELCO and then they flew me to the mine and was told I was in charge of the design. From then on, I started to design the capsule using more sophisticated engineering concepts. It was built in the city of Talcahuano. It was there we added the wheels to facilitate its movement through the tunnel. .
Infosurhoy.com: What was the rescue's most critical moment?
Alejandro Publete: When we did a test run of the Fénix 2 moments before the first rescue, it got stuck on the way up – three times. I said to myself, “it’s over:” But it worked the fourth time. And then we realized that the door of the Fénix 2 had not closed properly and that was what was making the capsule get stuck. More than a billion people saw how we fixed it: with a hammer. And it worked.
Infosurhoy.com: What did you feel when you saw the Fénix 2 ascending with the first miner?
Alejandro Publete: It was a thrill. I was very emotional because that’s what I came here for: I came to rescue 33 miners and now I can leave satisfied. It was hard work. I came to the mine at 5 a.m. and sometimes I would not leave until 3 a.m. the next day. But when I saw the rescue completed, I felt like I had scored a penalty kick at the World Cup finals. I scored 33 goals with the miners and six with the rescue workers. This was the [soccer] match of a lifetime.