Chile's Congress blame mine owners for accident

A Chilean congressional commission on Wednesday found two mine owners responsible for the accident that trapped 33 men a half-mile underground for 69 days last year.

The commission's report, which is expected to be approved by the lower house on Thursday, said members unanimously found Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny responsible for the collapse that trapped the men deep inside the San Jose mine, whose veins of copper and gold had been pursued for more than 100 years in poorly reinforced tunnels under the Atacama desert in northern Chile.

Deputy Alejandro Garcia Huidobro said the commission also determined that Chile's mine safety agency was administratively responsible for failing to fully enforce its safety rules.

The report is expected to help lawyers for the miners pursue lawsuits against the owners.

Bohn and Kemeny denied being negligent or otherwise responsible for the collapse, in which a 700,000-ton granite monolith, the very center of the remote hilltop, crashed down, shutting off any hope of escape without a Herculean rescue effort.

Both executives also face charges in an earlier accident in which a falling slab of rock sliced off a miner's leg.

The remarkable rescue effort, involving more than 300 people who supported the drilling and kept the miners safe and well-fed below, was paid for by the Chilean government, which has estimated that the company must repay $20 million. The mining company is under bankruptcy protection and its assets have been sold off to help resolve debts and pay severance to the miners.