October 8, 2010 / 4:14 PM / in 7 years

UPDATE 2-Rescue near for trapped Chile miners 2 months on

 * Rescue shaft nearly there but evacuation to take days
 * Miners to be hoisted one by one in capsules
 * Men set world record for time trapped after cave-in
 (Updates with mining minister comments)
 By Cesar Illiano
 COPIAPO, Chile, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Chilean rescuers look
close to ending the ordeal of 33 miners trapped for two months
deep underground, and could start evacuating them next week in
a survival story that has gripped the world.
 In one of the most challenging rescue operations in mining
history, engineers could finish drilling a shaft half a mile
down to the miners as early as Friday evening. But it will
still then take days to hoist them to the surface one at a time
in special capsules.
 Relatives of the trapped miners sang and prayed all night
around a bonfire at the mine-head in Chile's Atacama desert,
waving banners and lighting candles for each of the men.
 "We are calm. We've already held on for two months. Now we
are in the closing stage," said Samuel Avalos, 70, whose son is
among the trapped. "We hope it's over!"
 Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, spearheading the rescue
effort, said engineers must still decide how much of the shaft
to line with metal tubing before lifting them out in the
 Once the escape tunnel is finished, it would take anything
from 3 to 10 days to get the men out, he told reporters at the
 For a TAKE-A-LOOK                      [ID:nN22135549]
 For a Graphic, see      link.reuters.com/nyj57p
 Following the Aug. 5 collapse, engineers first bored tiny
drill holes the width of a grapefruit to locate the men stuck
in a tunnel 2,300 feet (700 meters) below ground -- equivalent
to 233 stories.
 The men were found 17 days after the cave-in, miraculously
all still alive, when the miners tied a message to the
perforation drill, triggering celebrations across Chile.
 Rescuers then used the ducts as umbilical cords to pass the
miners high nutrition gels, water, medicine and later solid
food to keep them alive.
 Trapped for 64 days, the men have set a new world record
for the length of time workers have survived trapped
underground after a mining accident. They are in remarkably
good health.
 "Hopefully, God willing, in a few days we will be able to
cry as a nation in happiness, just as we did when we found out
they were alive, when we see them emerge from the depths of the
mountain and hug their wives and children," President Sebastian
Pinera said.
 Images of the miners caught on a video camera lowered down
the drill hole showed them bearded and bare-chested to cope
with heat and humidity deep in the small, accident-plagued gold
and copper mine in Chile's mining heartland.
 The government brought in a team of NASA experts to help
keep the men mentally and physically fit during the protracted
rescue bid. The men had each lost an estimated 22 pounds (10
kg) during the 2-1/2 weeks before they were found alive.
 The miners have been doing exercises and helping clear
debris to keep their weight down so that they can fit in the
evacuation shaft just two feet (66 cm) in diameter.
 They will be hoisted to the surface in specially designed
capsules only slighter wider than a man's shoulders.
 The miners made their own latrines in one section of the
tunnel to ensure hygiene and avoid disease.
 They have also been exchanging letters with relatives on
the surface, and watching videos of soccer greats like Maradona
and Pele on miniature projectors sent down to them to help
while the time. Pope Benedict sent them rosaries.
 (Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Alejandro Lifschitz and
Jerry Norton)

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