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Subsurface Dangers

Aharon Granevich-Granot

While much of the world was watching events unfolding in Chile over the last two months — and especially last week — Boris (Moshe) Chazin was particularly riveted. As a former miner, he had nearly been trapped in collapsing mines on more than one occasion, so he knows what it means to face almost certain death. Now a supervisor of mine safety in Israel, he shares the story of his journey from the coal mines of Vorkuta, Russia, to life as a frum Jew — along with stories of his narrow escapes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Standing atop a large drilling mechanism at the Even Vesid quarry near Shoham, Boris (Moshe) Chazin seems to be a case study for the term “oxymoron.” His long beard and tzitzis fluttering in the breeze seem to belie his job as safety supervisor of mines for Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.

And while everyone in the world held their breath as they watched the Chile mine rescue operation last week, Boris Chazin was particularly riveted. The unfolding events brought back memories of two brushes with death he experienced during his own years training as a mining engineer.

“I was apprenticing in several underground mines in order to build up my on-site experience,” he relates. “One of the coal mines I worked in was in Vorkuta, in northern Russia, where there are many coal mines. The mine was 800 meters [about half a mile] deep, around 100 meters deeper than the Chilean mine. We descended into the mine by elevator. It was a huge mine, with a rail network that dropped miners off at their workstations. As we were walking along the route, we suddenly heard strange noises that indicated that the rock above us was beginning to crack. Little stones began to fall around us.

“We immediately recognized these signs, because they are the basis for every miner’s worst nightmares. We were certain that the entire mine would cave in.

“We trembled in fright, certain that death was imminent. I remember my life passing before my eyes.

“Suddenly, we realized that the train was still running, and before long, it rolled to a stop near us. We boarded the train, and it raced towards the elevator shaft. After it screeched to a halt, we dashed into the elevator and sped up towards daylight.

“Our escape came not a moment too soon. A minute after we got out, the shaft crumbled and filled with rocks, thereby closing off the only route out of the mine.”

While underground mines are particularly dangerous, open quarries are not without safety risks either.

“Anyone who works in this field knows that he is taking a risk,” he says firmly. “Once, I was working in an open quarry that was fifteen kilometers long, three kilometers wide, and 300 meters deep [9 by 1.8 miles, 1000 feet deep]. Miners were transported into the quarry via train, which would also carry the ore back out of the mine. There twelve carriages in the train, each of which could carry 180 tons.

“I was standing beside the machine that tested how deep we could dig. As the engineer, I had to see it for myself. But I got too close, and suddenly I felt cracks in the rock underfoot, and then found myself trapped in a huge avalanche of stones. I froze in fear, unsure of what had happened. I thought those were my final moments on earth.

“But as suddenly as it had started, the avalanche stopped. I was saved. Someone who was there told me that it had lasted just two minutes, but in such situations, each minute is like an eternity.”


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