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Chile miners rescue 'imminent'
Chile's president says his government is "very close to rescuing" 33 men trapped underground since August.
Last Modified: 05 Oct 2010 06:08 GMT
Miners have been trapped underground for 59 days since August 5 collapse of more than 700,000 tonnes of rock [AFP]

Chile's president has said his government is "very close" to rescuing 33 miners trapped since August.  

Sebastian Pinera said he is working to align the rescue schedule before his planned trip to Europe next week.

"For me it is very important to share this moment - not only with the 33 miners, but with their families and all Chileans," Pinera told a group of Chilean radio broadcasters on Monday.

It was Pinera who told the miners after they were found alive that they would be saved by Christmas.

Rescue leaders cautious

Advances in drilling the escape tunnels have already moved the date forward since then, but rescue leaders have been cautious. Only last week, they set the date for late October.

For the last two weeks, the miners have been sending keepsakes up in the same capsules that carry food, clean clothes, medicine and other supplies down through a narrow borehole to their underground cavern.

Letters from their families, signed Chilean flags and other things they do not want to leave behind are coming up out of the hole each day, Alberto Iturra, the chief of a team of psychologists supporting the miners, said.

Told of Pinera's statement, Andre Sougarret, the rescue chief, said he understands how anxious everyone is to rescue the men.

"I understand the desire of everyone, me included, is to leave as soon as possible. Still, we can't take any risks," he said.

The miners completed 59 days underground since the August 5 collapse of more than 700,000 tonnes of rock sealed off the lower third of the mine.

Setbacks

Sougarret announced that the leading T130 "Plan B" rescue drill was delayed for hours on Monday to replace one of its hammers, and that the Rig 421 "Plan C" oil well drill went slightly off course in the gold and copper mine.

Now the "Plan C" team is recalibrating their drill, slowing its advance. And the "Plan A" drill, which trails the other two, has been stalled since Saturday to change its drill bit.

"As of now we don't have anything new that would enable us to move up the date from the second half of October," Souggaret said.

Only when the T130 drill has reached the miners, and the team has lowered a video camera to examine the walls of the shaft, will the rescue team decide whether to reinforce the shaft with steel tubing.

That process could extend the miners' stay for three to 10 more days, but would ensure their safety should the unstable mine shift on their way up.

On Monday, members of the mine's union protested in a plaza in Copiapo, the regional capital, demanding their pay for the second half of September and any other remaining benefits owed them by the San Esteban mining company.

Source:
Agencies
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