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Chile mine managers deny disaster warnings

world Updated: Oct 20, 2010 21:06 IST

Managers of the Chilean mine where 33 men survived a record 10 weeks underground denied having received warnings of dangerous noises and refusing to let workers leave the site.

Chilean MP Carlos Vilches, a member of a parliamentary committee investigating the disaster, said on Tuesday that miner Juan Illanes had told him they asked, unsuccessfully, to be allowed to surface three hours before the mine collapse after reporting deep rumbling noises.

This was strongly denied in a statement from mine operators San Esteban by the San Jose mine's general manager, Pedro Simunovic, and operations chief Carlos Pinilla.

"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."

Vilches said he did not know who the miners warned about the rumblings, but he has invited them to tell his committee what happened to determine who was responsible. He said four or five miners were expected to testify.

Several of the miners have filed a lawsuit against San Esteban, and claims that an evacuation plea was rejected are likely to figure in the case.

The men were trapped on August 5 by a huge rock collapse inside the mine and they had been almost given up for dead before a probe sent down through a narrow bore hole struck lucky on August 22.

In that agonizing 17-day interim, when each man had to make do with a tiny spoonful of tinned tuna or salmon each day, they faced the mounting terror they would die in the mine.

After months of drilling, the men finally tasted freedom on October 13 after a clockwork rescue mission that was followed by a captive worldwide audience.