Chile secures lifeline to trapped miners, sends aid

Mon Aug 23, 2010 8:50pm GMT

By Alonso Soto

COPIAPO, Chile (Reuters) - Chilean miners who survived 18 days after a cave-in received hydration gel and medication through a narrow drill hole on Monday, but officials said it could be months before the men are freed.

In what relatives called a miracle, the miners on Sunday tied a note to a perforation drill that had bored a shaft the circumference of a grapefruit to where they are located, 2,300 feet (700 meters) vertically underground.

The accident in the small gold and copper mine has turned a spotlight on mine safety in Chile, the world's No. 1 copper producer, although accidents are rare at major mines. The incident is not seen having a significant impact on Chile's output.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said rescue workers began sending plastic tubes called "doves" containing glucose solutions, hydration gels and medicine down to the miners to keep them alive while they dig a new shaft to extract them -- which could take up to four months.

The miners haven't been told how long it will take, and could potentially emerge from the mine at Christmas.

Golborne said officials made radio contact with the miners on Monday and found they were in remarkably good condition and spirits despite the ordeal, one of the longest periods of time that trapped miners have survived underground.

"The wait is very different now," said Elias Barros, 57, whose brother is among those trapped. "It is a wait free of anguish. This isn't over, but we are much more hopeful it will end happily."

Relatives wrote letters to send down the shaft to the miners to help boost morale during the long wait ahead. Golborne said relatives had joked he should send cold beer down the drill hole.   Continued...

<p>A computer screen shows a recorded image of one of the 33 miners trapped in a deep underground copper and gold mine at Copiapo, 725 km (450 miles) north of Santiago, August 23, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado</p>
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