COPIAPO: Chilean rescuers on Saturday finished drilling an escape shaft for 33 miners trapped deep underground after a cave-in over two months ago, triggering cheers and tears from relatives on the surface.
Rescue workers jumped for joy as the drill pushed through the last inches (centimetres) of a nearly 2,050 foot-long (625 metre) shaft they have drilled down to free the men, live television footage showed. Relatives of the miners ran up the side of the hill above the mine waving Chilean flags.
Relatives and friends hugged and kissed as news spread the shaft was finished, and a bell rang out and horns sounded in the tent settlement dubbed ‘Camp Hope’ erected at the mine.
Some waved balloons, others sobbed in elation.
“I’m so happy, I’m going to have my son back!” cried Alicia Campos, whose son Daniel Herrera is among the trapped.
It will still take days to winch them to the surface one at a time in special capsules just wider than a man’s shoulders, in one of the most complex rescue attempts in mining history.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said rescuers would decide later on Saturday how much of the inside of the shaft they will line with metal tubing, and when they will likely start the evacuation. Golborne has previously said it would take between three and 10 days to start evacuating the miners once the shaft was finished.
The miners themselves must also conduct a controlled explosion down in the mine to make sure there is room for the escape capsules to emerge below.
Relatives and friends of the trapped miners have held candlelight vigils at the accident-plagued gold and copper mine in the far northern Atacama desert since the Aug. 5 collapse, and will stay put at the mine until the men are pulled out.
“I’m so happy I’ll soon be able to hug my son,” said Norma Lague, whose 19-year-old son Jimmy Sanchez is trapped. “I’m going to tell him I love him, I’m going to touch him and listen to him.”
The wives of some miners have been having their hair done in one of the tents set up as a makeshift hairdressers, as they prepare to be reunited with their husbands.
Some of the men have sent keepsakes like letters, crucifixes and clothes sent down to them in tubes back to the surface from the tunnel they called “hell.”
After the cave-in, engineers initially bored narrow shafts the width of a grapefruit to locate the men.
When they were found 17 days after the accident, miraculously all still alive, celebrations sprang up across Chile. Rescuers then passed high-energy gels, water and food down the narrow ducts to keep the miners alive.
Images caught on a video camera lowered down the bore hole showed the bearded men bare-chested to cope with heat and humidity deep in the small mine in Chile’s mining heartland.
Trapped for 65 days so far, the men have set a world record for the length of time workers have survived underground after a mining accident. They are in remarkably good health, though some have skin infections.
President Sebastian Pinera’s wife, Cecilia Morel, has traveled to the mine to help lend psychological support to the miners’ relatives.
“Don’t let’s set our hearts on an exact evacuation date, let’s trust the experts,” Morel told relatives of the miners overnight. “It’s like waiting for a birth. It seems the mountain has started to dilate, but the dilation is two centimeters (under an inch).”
The government brought in a team of experts from the US space agency NASA to help keep the men mentally and physically fit during the protracted rescue operation. The men had lost an estimated 22 pounds (10 kg) each during the 2-1/2 weeks before
they were found alive. – Reuters