Arrival of new machinery brings hope to relatives of 33 workers trapped underground for nearly one month.
|The miners have been trapped underground since the beginning of August [AFP]|
Rescue workers in Chile have drilled a hole 630 metres through the ground to reach the spot where 33 miners have been trapped since early August.
The full length of the hole was completed on Friday. It will now have to be widened in order to bring the men out safely, according to authorities.
Engineers have said that the necessary widening of the hole will take several weeks, and is expected to be completed by the first week of November at the earliest.
The T-130 drill broke through to a work area of the tunnel in which the miners are trapped, creating a 30cm hole in the roof.
The one Bolivian and 32 Chilean miners greeted the arrival of the drillhead with exhilarated message of thanks to those on the surface who are working around the clock to rescue them.
“With all of our heart: Chi, chi, chi! Le, le, le! Miners of Chile!” they chanted in footage later sent to the surface.
A quicker drill is now set to be deployed to make another hole in the coming days, with the first fully completed escape tunnel to be used to release the miners.
Andre Sougarret, the head of the rescue and the manager of state copper giant Codelco’s El Teniente mine, told state television that the miners would have to help in clearing the debris created as they work to widen the hole.
“From now on, we’ll need their help because we’re beginning a perforation where we need to remove material from below,” he said.
Rajive Ganguli, a professor of mining and geological engineering at the University of Alaska, told Al Jazeera that it was likely to take four to six weeks to widen the hole enough to start bring out the trapped men.
“They will probably build a rescue capsule that these miners can get into one-by-one and they will get pulled out,” he said.
“The way I see it at this point it is pretty much a done deal. Technologically it shouldn’t be that challenging any more.”
The group has been stuck in the San Jose mine in the Atacama Desert since a tunnel collapsed on August 5.
There are three supply holes through which the miners are receiving food, water, entertainment and medicine.