Turns out the hard drive I thought was due to fail, had actually failed. The nice thing is that I wanted to rebuild it anyway and I will never have to open this Mini again. Maxed the RAM and installed a SSD drive.
i lost all my iOS backups as well as hundreds of gigs of other software backups. Doh! Some things are just too big to back up, but too important to fail. Attempting recovery, but it sounds like a servo malfunction, so i am most likely doomed.