Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rescue shaft reaches trapped Chile miners

Rescuers in Chile will on Wednesday likely start evacuating 33 miners trapped deep underground for two months after a cave-in, after finishing drilling an escape shaft on Saturday to cheers and tears from relatives on the surface.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said rescuers would reinforce only part of a nearly 2,050 foot-long (625-metre) shaft they drilled to free the men from the gold and copper mine, meaning the rescue would begin the middle of next week.

"We hope to start the evacuation process on Wednesday," Golborne told reporters at the mine after briefing jubilant relatives of the miners.

He said the miners staged a controlled explosion down in the mine on Saturday afternoon to clear rock to make room for escape capsules, dubbed Phoenix 1, 2 and 3, to emerge below.

Rescue workers jumped for joy on Saturday morning as the drill pushed through the last inches (cm) of rock into a tunnel nearly half a mile underground. Family members of the miners ran up the hill above the mine waving Chilean flags.

The miners will be hoisted to the surface one at a time in the capsules, just wider than a man's shoulders, in one of the most complex rescue attempts in mining history. The men will be given the same medical checks done on astronauts.

"I'm so happy, I'm going to have my son back!" cried Alicia Campos, whose son, Daniel Herrera, is among those trapped in the mine.

Relatives and friends hugged and kissed as news spread that the shaft was finished. 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. Champagne corks popped.

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, although some have developed skin infections.