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Center Rock trio join Chile mine rescue

A Somerset County drilling equipment manufacturing company that provided manpower and equipment to the Quecreek Mine rescue eight years ago is assisting Chile in its effort to rescue 33 miners trapped since an Aug. 5 tunnel collapse.

Center Rock Inc. President Brandon Fisher, service manager Richard Soppe and Fisher's friend Bill Maloney of Morgantown, W.Va., arrived in Copiapo on Saturday.

Chilean officials' early predictions that the workers' rescue from the copper and gold mine in San Jose could take four months propelled the company into action, sales director Julie Fisher said Thursday.

"Brandon (Fisher's husband) and Richard and Bill have been in the drilling industry all of their careers," she said. "Weeks ago, when it came on the news that it could take until Christmas to rescue (the men), they said: 'This can't happen. We have to do something.' "

The Berlin company is part of the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, which has trade representatives in many countries. Fisher said the company, which employs 74, has distributors around the world and has worked internationally. A trade representative from Chile told officials there what Center Rock had to offer.

"Our guys worked round-the-clock" to prepare equipment for transport, Fisher said. She said UPS shipped the equipment at no cost.

Center Rock is working with South American companies to coordinate the rescue effort, she said.

The miners are trapped nearly half a mile underground, and experts expect to drill more than 2,000 feet before a rescue attempt can be made. An initial 12-inch hole is being drilled this week. The ultimate goal is to drill a 26-inch-wide tunnel as the miner's escape route.

"As of (Wednesday), they (crews) were at 868 feet," Fisher said.

The company provided equipment and manpower at Quecreek in 2002.

"Brandon was on from the beginning to the end of that whole project," Fisher said. "Tom (Foy) works here now."

Foy was one of the nine miners safely rescued after being trapped for 77 hours in a flooded mine shaft.

Fisher said she did not know how soon the miners might be rescued.

"Before Christmas," she said. "That's the hope."

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