10 Oct 2010

Chile rescuers reinforce shaft for miners' escape

10:16 pm on 10 October 2010

Chilean rescuers are reinforcing an escape shaft to hoist 33 miners to freedom two months after they were trapped deep underground in a cave-in.

Engineers finished drilling a 625-metre shaft just wider than a man's shoulders to evacuate the men, and the miners used explosives to make room for a special capsule dubbed Phoenix that will hoist them one at a time to the surface.

The rescuers have been inserting metal tubes to line the first 100 metres of the duct to strengthen it, and the government expects to start the evacuation on Thursday.

Rescue workers jumped for joy as the drill pushed through the last section centimetres of a 625-metre shaft that they have drilled to free the men.

The BBC reports the breakthrough at the San Jose mine came shortly after 8am local time (1200 GMT) on Saturday.

Relatives of the miners ran up the side of the hill above the mine waving Chilean flags.

A bell rang and horns sounded in a tent settlement at the mine. Some waved balloons, others sobbed in elation.

Engineer Eugenio Eguiguren told the BBC:

The men were really happy and excited, very emotional. The people on the surface were really happy.

Still days to wait

The men have been trapped since part of the mine collapsed on 5 August.

They are living in a shelter 700 metres underground.

However, it will be another three to eight days before they can be winched to the surface one at a time. Each man will take an hour to be winched to the surface.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich says his medical team is ready to start the rescue as early as Tuesday.

The BBC reports the men are expected to be split into three groups.

Some who are fit and have the most technical know-how will be chosen to go first - in case something goes wrong.

Then the weakest are expected to be brought to the surface.

A final group, including some of the strongest miners, will wait till last.

Before the evacuation can begin a doctor will be lowered into the chamber to examine the miners.