TAMPA – After weeks of fruitless searching, a miniature robot may be the best remaining chance for rescue workers to find six miners missing since a Utah mine collapsed in early August.
A USF faculty member is in Utah working with rescue teams to make sure the robot, equipped with two tiny cameras to explore the mine, is given the best chance to succeed.
One of the foremost experts on robot-assisted searches in the country, USF’s Dr. Robin Murphy, is lending her expertise to what may be a last-ditch attempt to find some sign of the miners.
“The Crandall Canyon Mine is one of the most challenging situations I’ve ever seen,” said Murphy, the director at USF’s Center for Robot Assisted Search and Rescue, during a press conference Sunday at the site of the mine, just outside Huntington, Utah. “So, frankly, I give us less than a 50 percent chance of being able to come up with any additional information.”
The 8-inch robot will be lowered more than 1,500 feet into a narrow hole drilled by rescue workers to survey the available space inside the mine.
Once it reaches the bottom, the “pipecrawler” robot can venture another 1,000 feet into the recesses of the mine while sending back images.
The robot’s cameras use a 200-watt light to scope out the recesses of the cavern, and can capture images up to 50 feet away. The first images were expected Monday afternoon.
During the press conference, Murphy laid out the difficulties of the search to reporters. The drill hole is just under 9 inches, less than an inch wider than the robot, so the robot may get hung up and stuck on the way down. Once in the mine, rubble may become caught in the robot’s treads.
Search missions like those in the Utah mine present problems for scientists, who need to power the robot and ensure data transmission over thousands of feet of cord, said Sam Stover, operations director at the Center of Robot Assisted Search and Rescue.
“It’s a unique challenge,” he said.
Rescue workers have begun to tunnel their seventh hole into the mine. Last week the mine’s co-owner said that the sixth borehole, drilled more than 1,700 feet deep, would be the last before sealing the mine.
The Crandall Canyon miners were last heard from about
3 a.m. Aug. 6, just before a thunderous shudder inside the mountain cracked the ribs of the mine and filled passageways with debris, cutting off an exit route. It’s never been clear if they survived the cave-in.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
David Guidi can be reached at 813-974-1888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.