Two workers missing following Patagonia mine flood

Rescue work underway at the Delia Mine in Chile's southern Aysen region.

The Santiago Times Staff

SANTIAGO – Two miners are missing after a flooding incident at a Canadian-owned mine in Chile’s southern Aysen region, according to a statement issued Friday by the company, Mandalay Resources.

As the search-and-rescue effort exceeds its 100th hour, it remains unclear if the miners are still alive.

Enrique Ojeda, 34, and Jorge Sánchez, 26, were last seen operating scoop and dump trucks in Section 2 of the Delia mine – beneath a lagoon – when the area became “completely inundated with water”.

Mandalay Resources Company, which is based in Toronto and traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: MND), owns the gold and silver mine as part of its Cerro Bayo complex near Chile Chico, a small town 1,800 kilometers south of Santiago.

According to a statement from Aurora Williams, Minister of Mining, Mandalay is responsible for having the necessary resources to lead the rescue effort. “Mining companies must guarantee the safety of all their workers,” Williams said.

Chile’s Minister of Mining Aurora Williams speaks at a press conference on Monday. “We will be stringent in the investigation to determine the level of responsibility of the company for the accident in the Delia mine of Cerro Bayo,” Williams stated.

She added that the Chilean government, in conjunction with regional authorities, is working to “reinforce” and “strengthen” the company’s rescue operation by providing excavation experts as well as specialized equipment.

A flood, as opposed to a landslide, makes a rescue operation significantly more difficult.

Communications director for the Ministry of Mining says that emergency response teams are constructing a retaining wall to prevent more flooding, as well as using a remote-operated, submarine robot to search for the workers.

The mayor of Chile Chico, Ricardo Ibarra, told The Santiago Times that he wants the government to provide a more efficient response. He has written to President Michelle Bachelet requesting additional technological support from the Argentine government. Ibarra believes Argentina has better drilling machinery in the Patagonia region, which he says would expedite the rescue effort.

Aurora Williams met with the chief operating officer of Mandalay Resources, Dominic Duffy, on Monday to discuss the conditions of the mine at the time of the accident. The government plans to open an investigation into the cause of the flood.

“We will be stringent in the investigation to determine the level of responsibility of the company for the accident in the Delia mine of Cerro Bayo,” the minister stated.

While it is still unclear whether the accident could have been prevented, mayor Ibarra says his community’s top priority is the safety of the miners.

“First, we must all stand united to try and save the lives of Jorge and Enrique, and then we’ll investigate what happened here,” the mayor said.

This is not the first major accident in the Cerro Bayo mines. In September 2016, Mandalay reported the death of a contractor. Another fatality occurred in July 2013.

“We are profoundly saddened by this unexpected event even as we focus our resources on search and rescue,” Mandalay CEO Mark Sander said in a recent statement.

Beatriz Susana Faira, 43, who owns a restaurant in Chile Chico, says that many families in the quaint, lakeside town rely on the mine for employment and are anxious for updates on the rescue operation.

“There is a silence over Chile Chico right now,” she told The Santiago Times. “We are all waiting to see if they will be able to find the workers and we are hoping they are still alive.”