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World

The escape capsule

The "Fenix 2" escape capsule which will bring the Chilean miners back to the surface is based on a German invention: The so-called 'Dahlbusch Bomb' was created within a few days by engineers 55 years ago.

Rescued miner Jose Ojeda holds up a Chilean flag

In May 1955, three miners were trapped when a shaft collapsed in the Dahlbusch colliery in the western German city of Gelsenkirchen. The men were able to receive food and water from above, but couldn't be rescued as there was no suitable device. One of the engineers working at the mine, Eberhard Au, designed a cigar-shaped capsule made out of steel sheet. The capsule was then lowered down a specially-drilled escape shaft. The miners stood in the capsule with their hands above their heads as if about to dive into water.

After its first, successful assignment, the capsule went on to rescue trapped miners in 1956 and 1957. But it was in 1963 that the capsule received worldwide fame. It was the center-piece of a rescue operation at the Mathilde iron mine in the northern German town of Lengede when 11 miners were rescued. Collieries around the world copied the design. Today there are three or four "Dahlbusch Bombs" in Germany.

'Fenix 2' the natural successor

Engineers from the Chilean navy built a total of three escape capsules based on the original Dahlbusch design. The "Fenix 2" capsule is about the same size as the original, measuring around two-and-a-half meters in length and 53 centimeters in diameter. It is equipped with a microphone, speakers and an oxygen supply. Each of the 33 trapped Chilean miners are transported back to the surface individually.

The original "Dahlbusch Bomb" has increasíngly been mentioned in connection with the Chilean rescue. Its inventor, Eberhard Au, died in 1996 at the age of 75. He never applied for a patent, reportedly saying "the main thing is, the lads get out of there."

Author: Gesche Brock
Editor: Rob Turner

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