Guests: Kerry Sanders, Jeff Gardere, Natalie Morales, Jeff Roten, Tony Oppegard
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Rescue.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. Leading off tonight:
Rescue in Chile. Crews are ready to start their rescue operation that will free, hopefully, 33 miners trapped underground for 69 days now, more than two months, the longest anyone‘s every been alive inside a mine—trapped, certainly. The Chilean minister of mines says the rescue will begin just two hours from now.
Well, this is a big international story, of course, and we‘ll be covering it throughout the night here on MSNBC.
But also, it‘s a big political news night, as well. The Democrats are finally breaking out from what James Carville, the “ragin‘ Cajun,” calls their fetal position. They‘re fighting back against the Republican onslaught—the battle for the women‘s vote and what Democrats need to do to get them to the polls. And big Bill. Bill Clinton hits the road nine states to rally for the Democrats.
We begin tonight with the Chilean mine rescue with NBC‘s Kerry Sanders, who‘s at the mine and joins us now with the latest. Kerry, we‘re wondering about this. It keeps being pushed back a bit. What‘s going on right now?
KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a little bit of a delay. They thought that they might begin now, and now they‘re into a two-hour holding period, where they‘re running some tests. They‘re actually gathered around the Phoenix, which is that escape capsule, and they‘ve had a small sledgehammer and they‘ve been taking a piece of rebar and banging that rebar down inside the capsule. As we take a look, it looks like they‘re trying to get something loosened up before they reattach it to the cable that will then lower it down.
So there are always going to be some problems at the last minute. The engineers have said from the beginning that they know that this is going to take some time and to expect it. They say that when they hear the sirens, when the sirens wail out here, it will be a sign things are about to really begin. So we have not heard those sirens yet.
We‘re looking at the pictures of the Phoenix there. You can see the men. The cable there was a special cable brought in from Germany. It‘s used in ski lift—for chair lifts at ski locations, ski mountains.
And bottom line, Chris, is the people down below are a lot more anxious than anybody up here. I mean, the family members want to see their loved ones. They‘d liked to get them up here right now. But the guys down there, they know what‘s going on. There is a telecommunication hookup down there. They‘re being informed. There are cameras down below, which are bringing images back up to the engineers so they can monitor what‘s going on down there.
There you can see the hole. That‘s the hole, sort of dead center of that—what looks like the base of a multiple number of pipes that could, you know, maybe look like it was the—an oil location. And right in the dead center there is where they will hoist it up, and then lower it down.
It‘ll be fed down by gravity. It simply goes down, as gravity takes it down 2,040 feet. And then the—well, in about two hours, we‘re going to begin to see the rescues begin.
They‘re going to run a test, though. Remember, they have to put it down there empty, bring it up. Then a paramedic gets in. It goes down. And then the first man comes up, Florencio Avalos. He‘s 31 years old, a father of two. He‘s got a brother down there with him, Renan (ph), who‘s 29 years old, and he‘s been mining in this particular mine for four years.
So I think that it‘s obviously a considerable honor for him to be the first one to come up. They chose him because he‘s healthy. He‘s strong. And they say he‘s smart. He knows if there‘s a problem, he can help them solve the problem while he‘s inside that 26-inch, very tight capsule coming up—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Kerry, give me a sense—you‘ve been down there reporting for a while. Give me a sense of the communication system between—here we are in real time. We‘re talking about a rescue effort that‘s about to begin, and hopefully, will be completed over the next day. The men down there in that mine right now, what are they hearing from above the surface? Are they—do they, like—is it like a telephone system? What connects them with the surface?
SANDERS: It‘s more advanced than that. The technology that‘s been at play here is amazing. It‘s fiberoptic. They drilled tiny little five-inch holes in various locations down in there, and that‘s where they were sending the food down. That‘s where they were sending clothes down, soap, shaving cream. And of course, they dropped down a fiberoptic line. So that fiberoptic line goes down to the men. Then they send down cameras. And so they have the ability not only to talk but to point the cameras back and forth.
And so it‘s a 24-hour open channel. Right now, they‘re in communication with them. And you know, the family members have had a chance to visit with their loved ones down there via that video conference on Saturdays and Sundays. They were each given about eight minutes to talk to their family members on the surface. So it‘s about as advanced as you can get.
And as we see here what looks like some—yes, that‘s the very top there. That was the very top of the—of the cable there that they were attaching back onto the Phoenix. Unfortunately, the distance from where I am and where the engineers are is just a little too far for them to explain exactly what‘s going on. However, we are getting regular updates from the minister of the mines here, Laurence Goldborne (ph). And he said, again, a two-hour delay, and that‘s where we are right now, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Is this state-of-the-art equipment and methodology—is this something that we would be using in the United States if we have a mining disaster, something like this, in the future?
SANDERS: Absolutely. This is the—this is designed with input of engineers from around the world, including engineers from NASA, who came down here. And as we see that red, white and blue, which are the colors of the Chilean flag with the star there—as we see it raised up, the engineering that is involved here, the checklists—they were rather proud to say that when they first put this together and then the engineers came down from NASA to advise them, they had already crossed off 95 percent of the things that the folks from NASA had suggested.
So this is something that we may see again. Of course, the hope is that people will not be trapped in mines, but we also know the danger of mining. And this has brought it crystal clear to anybody in the world who, you know, doesn‘t think twice about the people who go down there—in this case, a copper and gold mine or in other mines where they‘re extracting coal or something like that.
MATTHEWS: OK. One last time...
SANDERS: Here we go!
SANDERS: ... about 1,000 pounds...
MATTHEWS: Wow. So one last time, give us the run-through of what to expect in the next couple of hours. They‘re putting that thing down. The first guy down will be a rescue worker, is that right?
SANDERS: Yes. It‘ll be a paramedic. It‘ll go into the hole. It‘s going to go down empty first. Then they‘re going to bring it up. Then it‘ll go down with the paramedic, and the paramedic will exit down there, talk to the men. And then the very first man will come up, and that‘s Florencio Avalos. He will get inside. He will come up. When it comes up, another paramedic will go down.
And the idea is to get four to five paramedics—and two of them are commanders with the military here—to go down there. And the reason they‘re doing that, like the commanders, is they want somebody with sort of a fresh perspective, who has not been trapped down there, not on a very restrictive diet, somebody who has sort of an open mind. So if there is a problem, they may have a fresh perspective that can be worked with the miners, of course, who have a lot of that expertise.
MATTHEWS: Wow. Kerry Sanders, great reporting. Thank you so much for giving us updates. We‘ll be back down there again later in the program to get an update on this exciting development down there. It looks like a good night for mankind right now. Thank you so much, Kerry Sanders, down in Chile. They‘ve been there, of course, 69 days, they‘ve been down there underground.
Let‘s go right now to Jeff Gardere. He‘s, of course—we had him on earlier tonight, an early edition of HARDBALL. He‘s a psychologist, and boy, wait until you hear from this fellow. Thank you, Jeffrey, for joining us. I‘m so fascinated by...
JEFF GARDERE, PSYCHOLOGIST, NBC CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: ... the way this has developed because so often, you hear the bad story. And this is a tough election season here in the States, of course, a lot of nastiness. But here you have a real story of how human beings can create their own civilization in a terrible situation and be positive toward each other, a real community.
GARDERE: That‘s what they‘ve absolutely done under the guidance of Luis Urzua, who was the shift commander at the time when they went down there into that mine. He has helped them put together a structure, helped them put together a smaller society. They‘ve been there for one another. And even though there has been a lot of psychological stress down there—we‘ve seen notes that come up where the miners have complained about nightmares and wanting to get out of there—this guy, along with the rest of the miners, have been able to work together, to be a support group for one another, to help them—to help them through this most harrowing experience.
MATTHEWS: You know, it reminds me—and it may sound different, but it sounds like a similar situation—John McCain, Senator John McCain, talked about how they would stay alive culturally and as a unit when they were stuck as prisoners of war in North Vietnam and how they would take turns describing a movie they remembered. And some guys are better at remembering movies than others. And they would spend a whole night sort in pantomime and narrative, giving each other a night at the movies. They‘d call it Monday Night at the Movies, Tuesday Night at the Movies. And it sounds funny, but it gave them something to look forward to, all these guys stuck there in their black pajamas. It sounds like even much more dramatic example to be stuck underground with this small group of people, cut off from the rest of the world only in that way.
GARDERE: Well, it is such a unique experience for these miners in that there wasn‘t a lot of light down there. The heat was absolutely terrible. These guys were developing skin rashes. So there are a lot of medical issues down there.
But what they did Chris, and what you‘re saying is, they brought humanity into this very inhumane situation that, initially, they didn‘t have any psychological or physical control of. We have found out that they had singing down there. They sang their national anthem. They had entertainment. They had a person who was in charge of spirituality and prayer, another person who was in charge of structure and making sure that certain rules were followed.
So they did put together a mini-society, and as you‘ve talked about, and as Senator McCain did with his troops, was be able to be there for one another, be that support that only they can understand what was going on. And the people aboveground, even though they saw a lot of what was happening through the cameras, couldn‘t understand as much as these miners have understood. This is a singular experience that only they will only be able to share with one another. And they did that down there, and hopefully, they‘ll do that aboveground.
MATTHEWS: Well, how do you explain this positive development of getting together, rather than breaking apart? You know, the great novel we all read, which was “Lord of the Flies,” about young kids separated from civilization and they break bad. You know, how does this—how does this happen this time? Do you have any idea what the catalyst was for a positive community being developed?
GARDERE: Yes, I think...
MATTHEWS: Underground, 2,000 feet below the surface, you know, separated from their wives, from their kids, from everything in terms of normal—like, normal entertainment and diversion, like, just getting up and having a cup of coffee in the morning with your spouse or going to bed at night with your spouse or the normal way you live, maybe going to a movie once in a while. I mean, they lost all that down there.
GARDERE: Absolutely. And I think reason this did not turn out the way of the “Lord of the Flies”—two very specific things. One is that they did have leadership down there, something that we call in psychology called emerging leadership. That is something that happened where the strongest ones were able to fend for some of the weaker ones.
And the other thing that was going on was this was sort of, like, believe it or not, reality TV, in that the people aboveground could see what was happening below. So there was an extra incentive for these miners to behave themselves and to be humane to one another because they knew that everything that they were doing was being watched. They were in a bubble, unlike the novel “The Lord of the Flies,” where those kids were by themselves and had to start their own society in a very negative and lawless way.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about the guy who was the entertainer in charge. How did that work out? Do you have any idea how that developed, and what was his method of entertaining on a nightly basis for 69 nights?
GARDERE: I believe what happened was each person had their own personality traits, of course, and so the best of some of these people actually came out. So the person who was much more spiritual, well, just automatically emerged as that person who was able to say prayers and bring out spirituality in others.
For the person who was the entertainer, my understanding was this was a person who liked to sing. This was a person who loved entertainment. This was a person who had a sense of humor, a real spirit, a real artistic spirit, and therefore was able to fill that role, fill those shoes, and did it in a very admirable manner, to the point of where he was able to inspire the others to tap into that sense of humanity, artistic, entertaining kind of quality that all of us have to some extent.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the culture of the miner. You know, I grew up with it only in the movies, basically, “How Green Was My Valley” and the guys, the old Welsh coal miners going underground in terrible conditions. And today, of course, still in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, you‘ve got that tradition of guys going down there, coming up with their faces covered with soot and having to take a shower, and obviously, that bonding that goes on. But the guts it takes just to go down there every morning with your lunch bucket and your light on your helmet—what is that about? Is it a certain kind of person? Is it inherited from father and son, the guts that it takes to be a working guy a mile or so beneath the surface of the earth 40 hours week?
GARDERE: Absolutely, Chris. First of all, these guys were making about $1,000 a month, which is considered to be big money in Chile. But they had to do at the peril of their lives. They knew when they went down there they were exposing themselves to possible illnesses, lung illnesses and so on. They knew about the darkness. Even though some of these guys already had issues with claustrophobia, they went down anyway because they needed to take care of family. One young man needed to take care of his pregnant girlfriend.
So these were guys, even if they had differences above the surface—above the surface, when it came down to going into those mines, they had to look out for one another. And therefore, a solidarity developed. And we see this happen all the time when you go into very dangerous situations. That‘s part of our great humanity.
GARDERE: This is what these guys did, and that‘s why they were very solidified emotionally.
GARDERE: We can only hope that happens once they come above ground.
MATTHEWS: Well, Jeff, you‘re one of the best guests we‘ve ever had on the program. I can‘t think of a better night to have you for this particular topic.
GARDERE: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you when we come back, my pregnant question, will these guys go back in that mine when they get out this time? Thank you. We‘ll be right back with Jeff Gardere, telling us about the psychology of working 2,000 feet below the surface and being stuck down there with 32 other guys for 69 days below the surface.
Back with more on the mine rescue that‘s coming up tonight in just a moment. You‘re watching it hear on HARDBALL—what a night—on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Well, that rescue capsule is just about to be lowered into the rescue hole at that Chilean mine -- 33 miners, of course, trapped underground now for 69 days. Those are the facts. The drama is happening right now.
NBC‘s Kerry Sanders is at the mine alongside NBC‘s Natalie Morales.
Natalie, give us an update on this thing. It‘s getting dark down there.
It‘s about the same time as Eastern time, right, in Santiago?
NATALIE MORALES, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It‘s about—we‘re an hour behind—or an hour actually ahead here. So this operation, as Kerry was reporting, was expected to take place—expected to begin, really, about 20 minutes ago here. There is somewhat of a delay. We are not sure why that is yet. But they did say in a press conference earlier today that they‘re not going to let the rescue capsule go down at all yet until they make sure that everything is just perfect. And they‘ve been doing a lot of test runs all day today, all day yesterday. So they‘re really going to make sure that everything is perfect before they, you know, put anyone at perhaps risk here.
SANDERS: Yes, and I think it‘s worth noting it‘s getting cold here. We‘re in the desert. The daytime is very hot. At night, it gets very cold. I think we‘re probably in the upper 40s right now. It‘s getting chilly.
But here‘s the thing that‘s interesting. Down where those men are, you might think in your mind, inside a mine, it‘s cold. Here in the desert, down there, it‘s warm. They have about 80 percent humidity and it‘s about 80 degrees down there. That‘s why when you‘ve seen the images of the men down there with their shirts off, that‘s why. It is that hot down there. And that heat retains down there, so the men are not feeling the chill that we‘re feeling up here.
MORALES: No, they‘re certainly not. And you can imagine the excitement that they‘re feeling, as well, to be reunited with their loved ones. And the family members, for their part, very excited. We did see buses go in already. It appears it could be some of the family members. Now, we‘re not sure.
Now, each of the miners is going to be allowed to have three family members on the platform to greet them. But there is going to be a full process before then. They have to go through triage. All of their medical evaluations have to take place first before they‘re then allowed to see those three family members.
SANDERS: And the reason that they‘re doing that is not only for the healthy ones, but some of those down there, indeed, do have long-term issues—heart conditions, diabetes. Some of them have developed skin conditions, rashes that are quite uncomfortable. These first 17 days, when really, quite frankly, they had no contact and it was just a hope and a belief perhaps from the family members that these men might still be alive, they didn‘t have the ability to brush their teeth. And so some of them actually have some ongoing gum problems. And I can‘t imagine anything worse than being down there 69 days with a toothache.
SANDERS: But they‘ve been giving them some drugs. When they do come up, because they‘re going to be in that tight little capsule and they‘re concerned about things like deep vein thrombosis, each man, before he come up, is going to be given an aspirin or two to keep the blood thin. They‘re going to be put in a special custom-designed suit, much like a pilot on an F-16 would wear. It‘s tight, keeps the blood in the legs tight so it remains up in the upper portion of the body. The socks are especially tight.
MORALES: And interesting to note, as well, as we were looking at some of the pictures beforehand, the design of the capsule almost looks very rocketship-like, which certainly, you can‘t say was not a fact I‘m sure they took very much into consideration here. And also painted in the red, white and blue, the colors of the Chilean flag. So a very patriotic moment. Everyone here glued. In fact, they‘ve installed a Jumbotron down at the end of the campsite here, where so many people have made this area home. And they‘re watching the coverage live, as you‘re watching it. The world is watching this, wanting to see that very first miner come out. We know a little something about the order already.
SANDERS: Yes, with Florencio Avalos coming out, being number one, it is because of his health. They say that he is strong, he is healthy. At 31 years old, with an experience of four years in this mine and a career as a miner, they believe that he has the expertise, if there‘s a problem, to not just radio up and say there‘s a problem, but then to say, Perhaps this is the solution. So I think it‘s really interesting that, you know, initially, they were saying the list is a secret. The men down below were fighting not to be number one, to be last, which I think says lot about their brotherhood.
MORALES: Absolutely. They show—they‘ve shown really that solidarity throughout the entire 69 days. We know that the second one, as well, is most likely going to be Mario Sepulveda. He‘s an electrical specialist, which—again, they‘re asking the first guys to come up—these are the ones who probably have the most experience when it comes to troubleshooting problems.
But it‘s interesting because I spoke with his family today, and they say that he really—they‘ve started calling him the reality TV announcer because that has been sort of his job. In fact, all those videos that we saw early on that were narrated, where they showed the miners in their 600-foot subterranean quarters—that was all shot and narrated beautifully by him.
SANDERS: Yes, well, a reporter in the making down there.
SANDERS: You know, the thing that is also interesting is the area that you mentioned that they were in down there. You know, a lot of people had the idea that they were holed up in a tiny little, almost, like, cave-like situation. It‘s actually much larger, to the point that some of them have been exercising to—running five miles a day. So they‘ve been trying to do everything they can. They‘ve been given required calisthenics that they had to go through.
And then in the final days here, as they‘re leading up to this, within
about the last week or two, the—Rene Romagnoli (ph), who is the doctor -
Gene (ph) Romagnoli, the doctor, was actually working with them on the breathing techniques that you would learn in a yoga class because the fear is—and I think a lot of us can understand this—when you get into a tight little compartment, as it were, even if you have the experience, to get in there and then come up—if you need to pause for a moment to collect yourself, he wanted them to know, take a deep breath in through the nose and then let it out through the mouth and to take their time, to collect themselves so that they can then think.
MORALES: It‘s interesting now as we‘re looking at pictures now of the moonlight here. And they were saying conditions are actually are perfect. They‘re ideal for the rescue. They say there‘s enough moonlight that the helicopters can fly in and out. Once they are brought up to the surface, they‘re going to be helicoptered to the nearest hospital, the Copiapo regional hospital, which has a brand-new wing—brand-new, spanking new, shiny and beautiful—waiting for them, waiting to greet there. And really depending on the kind of treatment that they‘ll need, from there on, it all depends on what is required. But they can be released if it‘s felt that they‘re in pretty good shape.
SANDERS: Yes, and you know, they‘re going by helicopter because I think we really need to explain where we are in the Atacama desert here, the driest spot on earth. We are, by driving, about an hour and 15 minutes on not the greatest road into a town which is not the smallest town, but it‘s what I would say an isolated town. And where we are out here, there is nothing until this happened.
The mine was here. Men would come back and forth to work. Sometimes, they‘d stay here for days, and their wives and children would come out on weekends and while they‘d take a break and have a barbecue and then go back in. But there‘s very little in this desert. A few flowers maybe grow here. You don‘t see birds flying around. You don‘t see...
MORALES: No trees.
MATTHEWS: No trees. We are in a wind-swept desert here.
MORALES: Best described, as some have said, as a moonscape. And it really does have that appearance of a moonscape and—but an area very rich in copper, gold and ore, which is what the men, in fact, were mining for when they were trapped 69 days ago.
And again, taking a look at the live pictures. And to let you know, it seems we‘re experiencing a little bit of a delay with what we were told would probably be an 8:00 PM rescue, 8:00 PM being local time here. We are an hour ahead of Eastern time. But no reason that we know of just yet, except earlier today at a news conference, they did say they were not going to begin the full rescue operation until they were absolutely, positively sure that every system had been tested. And as you see, they‘re looking over the rescue capsule...
SANDERS: Yes, and I think it‘s interesting...
MORALES: ... checking it thoroughly.
SANDERS: They‘re looking at the upper portion of what appears to be the rescue capsule, Chris. So as we look at them...
SANDERS: ... working on the upper portion, that is not the area where the men will enter. That‘s above their head.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘re going to...
SANDERS: That‘s kind of where the light is. That‘s where the camera comes down through.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much. What a great report. Thank you, Kerry Sanders and Natalie Morales. This is going to be a night to remember for everyone watching here. We‘ll be right back with you down there in a moment. Our coverage of the Chilean mine rescue continues in just a moment.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: American companies help Chilean officials in this rescue operation.
Jeff Roten is with us by phone. He‘s a senior service technician with Schramm and he helped drill the rescue holes at the Chilean mine.
Thank you very much, Jeff, for joining us. Give us a sense of the challenge that led to tonight. How did you get this far?
JEFF ROTEN, HELPED DRILL RESCUE HOLES: A lot of good team work from many different companies, Main Christianson, Center Rock, and many American companies come down there with a great rig.
The hole was extremely difficult. It was such a hard rock formation but seems like we had the right combination and we were able to get her done.
MATTHEWS: What kind of rock did you have to cut through to get down 2,000-plus feet?
ROTEN: We‘re talking granite, we‘re talking a lot of soft and hard formation. That‘s what made it so hard. You know, in the drilling process, hard rock is good when you‘re drilling such a large hole. All of a sudden we would hit patches of soft and that‘s what made it really hard for us because, you know, we‘re trying to get to a certain destination and trying to keep that bit straight.
MATTHEWS: And let me ask you about the decisions that are made on the 26-inch capsule. How wide a hole did you have to dig to make that able to go down?
ROTEN: What we did, the initial hole is 28 inches down to 500, I think, 30 meters? And then we reduced down to a 26-inch hammer. The capsule itself is 21 inches. So --
MATTHEWS: That‘s what I thought.
ROTEN: Yes. Yes, the capsule is riding in—it‘s a 21-inch capsule and a 26-inch hole. So --
MATTHEWS: And what were the concerns—what were your concerns about was there any danger of a cave-in as you were going down toward the tunnel?
ROTEN: Our initial fear was the last, say, 100 meters, we didn‘t want to actually poke through the tunnel so what we did is we—with a video camera and talking to miners, we actually stopped short, and the miners cleared it the rest of the way. The last six or seven inches.
So there was no instance of that. And most of the loose rock material is, you know, up towards the surface so that‘s why they set the 100 meters of casing, just insurance policy to make sure nothing falls down in on the capsule.
MATTHEWS: So what‘s the difference between our technology and the Chilean technology? Are they state-of-the-art? Are we state-of-the-art? Who is ahead in mine rescue?
ROTEN: I think you, well, the thing is we‘ve done it before. I think that‘s the difference. You know, the same company, Center Rock, we just did—they did a mine rescue in Pennsylvania and well, there‘s 40 Schramm drawings down in Chile so just the availability, too, you know, that Schramm was the biggest rig we could get there so everything just worked out for us.
MATTHEWS: Well, congratulations so far, Jeff Roten, for coming down there to Chile to help save these 33 miners who‘ve been trapped down there for 69 days. Thank you for joining us, Jeff Roten.
ROTEN: You got it.
MATTHEWS: The mine rescue set to begin in less than 90 minutes right now. We‘re going to have much more from Chile. What a story. What a night to remember. You see it down there in the dark. But we‘re going to remember this story, if this thing works out. Especially positively.
As our coverage continues after this. We‘re watching—we‘re all watching HARDBALL right now on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘ve got all the latest poll numbers for the political races around the country. In a moment with our HARDBALL scoreboard. But first, let‘s get back just now for a few minutes with the rescue capsule.
It‘s been lowered into the mind right now and it‘s a test run. No one is aboard right now. In less than 90 minutes, the actual rescue operation will begin, as those 33 miners in Chile, 2,000 people below surface are going to begin coming up one by one on what‘s called Phoenix II, which is that interesting capsule that has been built for this purpose.
It looks like a small spaceship. There it is. Heading downward 2,000-plus feet to pick up one at a time those miners.
Let‘s go to Tony Oppegard. Oppegard, who‘s a mine safety expert and a former official at the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
Tony, thank you for joining us. About mine safety and the question, did something—the thing that went wrong here, can you describe what led to the need for this saving of these 33 guys after 69 days?
TONY OPPEGARD, MINING SAFETY ADVOCATE: Well, Chris, as you know, mining is inherently dangerous, no matter where it‘s done in the world. And basically, here a tunnel collapsed. There was a roof fall and they were not able to get to the miners that way so they had to come down from the surface.
And we know these miners are really tough men because from all accounts this is a mine with a bad safety record. What we would call a dog hole in Kentucky. And for miners to work in a dog hole, they‘re risking their lives to support their families and they are—many of them have been injured earlier in their careers, I have read. And you know they‘re tough men.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about a dog hole? Is that a meaning for a dangerous mine? Or is it a particular configuration?
OPPEGARD: It‘s a dangerous mine where little regard is given to safety. The main goal is production and you‘re willing to risk your workers‘ lives or their health in order to get the coal, or the copper, or the gold, whatever it may be, out. And from all accounts that‘s what we have here in Chile.
MATTHEWS: Is that because—well, let‘s not get into national differences here, but I guess I have to. Is Chile known not to have much of a regulatory regime?
OPPEGARD: I believe that is the case. And certainly they don‘t have the scrutiny that we have. There‘s complaints in America, you know, from the Tea Party folks about the federal government overreaching. We need to keep government off of our back, make government smaller, but it is undisputed that in the United States, the death rate has decreased dramatically because of the involvement of MSHA, that‘s the Mine Safety Health Administration, and the federal laws overseeing coal mining.
We have a candidate right now in Kentucky running for the U.S. Senate, Rand Paul, who‘s one of these Tea Party radicals, who has said to a coal group in Harlan County that the operators ought to be responsible for safety and the federal government should stay out of mine safety issues.
And if we had that in America, we‘d be going back 50 years or 100 years and we‘d have more accidents like we‘re seeing in Chile right now.
MATTHEWS: You know, that‘s an odd statement to make, I guess, compared to the way most of us look at it. We like the fact that there is some federal regulation of airline safety if we fly regularly. We like to know that when we open a can of tuna that there is somebody over at FDA or somebody is watching the people that produce it.
We don‘t generally rely on self-regulation when it affects our own safety and own health, do you notice?
OPPEGARD: No, we don‘t. It‘s an ignorant statement and if Mr. Paul had relatives working in coal mines in Harlan County, I‘m sure he would want federal inspectors because for coal miners in the United States the best days they have, particularly in nonunion mines, is went inspectors are underground on a daily basis.
When inspectors aren‘t there, a lot of operators run wide open. They disregard safety laws, they do whatever they have to do to get the coal out as fast as they can.
And we don‘t want in America the types of situation that they are going through in Chile right now where you have 33 men whose lives are still at risk.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about mines—the mine operation. Do you have any—do you have an understanding of the technology that‘s being used tonight to get them out?
OPPEGARD: Well, I‘m not an engineer. Certainly it‘s similar to what was use to Quecreek disaster back in July ‘02 in western Pennsylvania. In that case, however, the miners were trapped only 240 feet below the ground and of course here in Chile they are more than 2,000 feet, so there‘s quite a difference.
And the other great difference is that, well, go back, the capsule that‘s being used, I think the first time a similar capsule was ever used was at the Quecreek accident in 2002. And I‘m sure based on that experience, it has helped in planning for this rescue operation.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about American mine workers because Americans—what we hear about ourselves as much as people overseas. And the question I have to ask you is about the safety.
Are the unions able to keep safety in our mines in America? Were they organized?
OPPEGARD: There is a difference—the difference between a union mine and a nonunion mine in America is the difference between night and day. And for instance in eastern Kentucky, we have no union mines whatsoever, not a single one.
And we have a lot more safety issues there, miners required to work in unsafe conditions, miners who are afraid to speak out for safety because they know if they do, they are going to get fired from their jobs.
And in a lot of ways there has been great improvement in most areas of the country but in eastern Kentucky, we still seem to be behind the times here because we don‘t have any union mines and you don‘t have safety committeemen who are called to scene in case there is this dispute between a miner and a foreman over a safety condition.
At a nonunion mine, all you can do is keep on work. They tell you, if you don‘t like it get your bucket and go to the house. That means get your lunch pail, leave the mine, you‘re fired.
They have a federal law that protects and miners in United States have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. But of course, if they do and they are fired, they will be tied up in litigation for the next two or two and a half years.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. It‘s great to have your perspective.
Tough—it‘s a tough road to hoe you‘ve handled here but I think we ought to know these things. People want to know what it costs to get that coal out of the grounds in human terms.
Thank, Tony Oppegard, for joining us.
We‘ll have much more on the mine rescue effort in a moment. We also have the latest political polls. We want to bring you up to date. It‘s what we do on HARDBALL every night. Give you the scoreboard no matter what and we‘re going to give it to you tonight, no matter what.
You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL.
We got more of the news on Chile in a moment. But right now, let‘s check the latest polls and the tight political races around our country.
In the HARDBALL scoreboard, we start with the generic congressional ballot, from the new Bloomberg poll, good news for Democrats here, and a big surprise. The Democrats now lead Republicans. It‘s hard to believe, given all the bad news for Democrats, 42 to 40.
They‘re actually in the lead in this poll, a poll by Bloomberg. And a respected poll.
In Delaware, Democrat Chris Coons a big lead over Republican Christine O‘Donnell. No surprise there but look, 19-point spread, 57-38. In the West Virginia U.S. Senate race, Democrat Joe Manchin, the governor of the state, leads Republican John Raese but by only 3.
In a new PPP poll, that‘s a Democratic robocall, polls—which some pollsters say aren‘t—isn‘t quite as accurate as other polls.
Another PPP poll out in Nevada, Senator Harry Reid has a slim lead over Republican Sharron Angle. He can‘t shake her.
Finally, in Wisconsin, a new Reuters‘ poll has Republican Ron Johnson leading Senator Russ Feingold by 7. I don‘t get it. What‘s going on in Wisconsin?
We‘ll continue to check the HARDBALL scoreboard and all the big races each night leading up to November 2nd, Election Day.
When we comeback, we‘re going to have the latest from Chile as crews get ready to rescue those 33 trapped miners. This is a big night, a big night to be near your TV set.
You‘re watching HARDBALL only in MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: So let‘s go back down to Chile and get the very latest on that rescue of those trapped miners. NBC‘s Kerry Sanders and NBC‘s Natalie Morales are both at the mine.
Kerry and Natalie, what is the latest as we end our program tonight?
NATALIE MORALES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are looking right now, Chris, at what appears to be, you know, perhaps one of the final tests, and we‘re told that they‘re going to—as we just saw them raise up the capsule on that winch system, and they‘re now going to soon lower it empty.
First—the first one‘s going in empty. And they‘re going to do a run. They‘re not going to make it all the way down because, again, they don‘t want anybody to get too excited down in the mine.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You don‘t want somebody to just jump in.
MORALES: They have been trapped for 69 days.
SANDERS: Yes, they don‘t want somebody to jump in. And the reason they don‘t want to do that, of course, is because they have a set pattern of what they‘re going to do. They want it to go down first with a rescue miner who will go down and then it will come up with our first miner coming up to the surface after 69 days.
And that‘s 31-year-old Florencio Avalos, father of two, veteran miner, somebody who they think is cool, calm, and collected, somebody who they believe actually has the mining experience to actually solve a problem if one exists.
MORALES: And here‘s the famous mine hole. The mine shaft. You see there. And you see all the fiber optics and the cabling that they‘re monitoring and using to watch the whole process.
Every single part of that rescue capsule, the Phoenix I and Phoenix II, there are two capsules that are going to alternate, are covered with video and audio capability.
SANDERS: Yes. And I think that‘s what they‘re doing right now. I think that is the camera, because they‘ve been sending a camera up and down. It‘s 2,040 feet.
And Natalie, they‘ve been sending a camera up and down as we know because they‘ve been inspecting the walls. Now the first 187 feet has pieces of half-inch steel pipe that are in lengths of about 20 feet long. They were all soldered together or welded together and then they were inserted down.
And the reason they did that is because the fear that the upper portion of the shaft had some loose rocks or some fractures that could come loose while the capsule was transiting. It appears that they may be sending down a camera right now --
SANDERS: -- to once again to inspect the shaft.
MORALES: And meanwhile the Phoenix cap sewer and—it is right above it, and they‘re going to wait until they get a clear feed, you would imagine, before they then are going to lower the Phoenix capsule down.
Again, without anyone in it the first time, but then for—it‘s the real first beginning of the rescue operation which we‘re now being told is going to take place around 10:00 p.m. here.
That that will then—they‘re going to then lower the first man down will be a rescue miner, somebody who‘s on the rescue team.
SANDERS: Actually I‘m getting word right now that what they‘re lowering down there is a communication cable. So the communication cable is going down in there. I guess they‘re having a redundant system placed in, even though they have those other five-inch holes.
SANDERS: They call them palomos (ph), which are --
SANDERS: -- like the birds. The doves.
SANDERS: Where they have communications. They‘re adding, yes, one more communication line down there.
Boy, they‘re doing it with some speed. They want to get it down there, don‘t they? Everybody is so anxious for this moment.
MORALES: Yes, they‘re really going to make sure, Chris, that every single step of the way is analyzed, thoroughly tested before they actually begin the operation.
By the way they‘re called it Operation San Lorenzo which is interesting because that is actually the patron saint of miners. San Lorenzo. So, again, a sign of the faith as well that they‘ve all shown so much here.
SANDERS: You know, I‘m curious, Natalie, we‘ve been covering the story now for some time. I‘m excited. I mean it --
MORALES: You can‘t help but be excited and to have emotion, as objective journalists tonight --
SANDERS: I just want to cheer because I want these guys up here. I‘m so --
MORALES: It‘s hard—it‘s hard to do that.
SANDERS: Yes. It really is.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re allowed to --
SANDERS: It‘s really weird, you get sucked up into this. I think the world is.
MATTHEWS: I think we‘re allowed to side with the rescue workers. I don‘t think that‘s a question of subjected journalism. I think you‘re allowed to take a very strong position here of support for the effort here.
Let me ask you, can you—I guess you can take turns doing this. Give me a sense of the next 24 to 48 hours. I mean how—these are going to come out, 24 minutes to get to the top?
SANDERS: Well, take a look. Take a look. Take a look --
MORALES: Just take a look at the picture here.
SANDERS: Yes, here we go.
MORALES: These are the (INAUDIBLE) police that, you know, doing their
SANDERS: Just listen. Let‘s listen.
MORALES: Their chant. I don‘t know how much you can hear of that but that is an example of what people are feeling here.
SANDERS: It is.
MORALES: And everything is really now building up to this momentous occasion. The rescue capsule now being raised up. Again, this is going to be a first test run as far as we know. Chris?
MATTHEWS: And you‘re going to be there through the night, it looks like, based upon the time it takes to get each one of the rescued workers to the surface.
SANDERS: We‘re going to be here for the next 48 hours. Rocking anywhere.
MORALES: It‘s going to be a long operation. They‘re saying it could take anywhere from 33 hours to about 48 hours or so.
MORALES: But, yes, as long as you want us here, Chris, we‘ll stay.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about this. How many people are there? We‘re not—we can‘t see the full establishment shot right now as we call it. How many people are around you in this amazing historic spot right now?
MORALES: I‘m going to ask George if you wouldn‘t mind just kind of panning over here to show all of our 2,000 friends who are with us here on our coverage from 200 nations including North Korea, we‘re told, has a crew here. A lone journalist from Finland. Every nation just about is represented here.
SANDERS: From Morocco. I mean just from all over the place. And --
MORALES: And this has become a larger-than-life story.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s great.
MORALES: This is not about a nationality --
MATTHEWS: Natalie, Natalie—you‘re so smart to include the North Koreans. That proves it‘s a global enterprise. We‘re all in this together.
Thank you so much, Kerry Sanders and Natalie Morales.
That‘s HARDBALL for now and good luck to all these people doing good work down there, including our colleagues Kerry and Natalie for bringing all this to us.
We‘ll continue to cover the rescue operation in Chile on MSNBC throughout the night. “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.
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