Work continued Saturday to rescue the 33 Chilean miners trapped 700 meters underground, including a faster drill to enlarge an existing supply shaft, and a plan to use an oil drilling platform to drill a third rescue shaft.
AFP - A faster drilling machine was being assembled Saturday to enlarge an existing supply shaft to 33 Chilean trapped miners, as work on the main shaft continued and a special rescue cage was being built by the Navy.
A third alternative, or plan "C," involving a football-pitch-size oil drilling platform was also under way and expected to begin drilling a third rescue shaft by September 18 (Chile's Independence Day), said President Sebastian Pinera.
The battle to reach the men trapped 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground since an August 5 collapse presents a twofold challenge: drilling through the rock and managing the psychological effects of prolonged isolation deep underground.
A group of NASA officials wrapped up a three day visit to the mine Friday with a report recommending the miners be given extra doses of vitamin D, to compensate for the lack of sunlight, an adequate exercise regimen and activities to keep them busy.
"We've got three alternative plans: plan A is up and running, plan B... should be starting on Sunday, and plan C is in the works so that by September 18 a third option is up and running," said the rescue operation's chief engineer Andres Sougarret.
"For now, we've got those three alternatives, but we're still dealing with a three to four month timeframe for the rescue," he added.
Engineers Friday resumed drilling with the Australian-made Strata 950 excavator after a brief halt Thursday when the drill hit a geological fault 40 meters (130 feet) down that had to be reinforced with concrete to make it water tight.
A second drill that will widen a supply chute to the miners and could aid their rescue, arrived Friday dismantled atop five trucks at the site of the copper and gold mine in Chile's Atacama desert, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Santiago.
"I feel so much emotion and I'm impatient to begin work as soon as possible," Juan Castillo Olea, who drove one of the trucks carrying the machine parts, told AFP.
The T-130 excavator is faster than the Strata 950 and will be deployed initially to enlarge the supply chute to a diameter of 30 centimeters (12 inches).
The process will allow teams of nutritionists, doctors and the miners' relatives to send larger objects down to the 33 men, said Sougarret.
Engineers are also examining whether the supply chute could be enlarged further, giving rescuers a second potential rescue route, a back-up option, he added.
Sougarret said the T-130 should start digging on Sunday, adding: "We're figuring a two month plus timeline for that shaft" to be completed.
The third rescue option was confirmed Friday by President Sebastian Pinera.
On plan C, Pinera told a press conference in Santiago that state-run National Petroleos de Chile Company (ENAP) was supplying the oil drilling machine that will open a new rescue shaft in addition to the others.
Sougarret said plan C is the fastest of the three "if they had started at the same time." But since that did not happen, "we're keeping to the timeframe of three to four months."
"There's always a risk of new collapses," he warned. "We're talking about collapses in the shaft under construction," not in the shelter where the miners are huddled.
The Chilean Navy said it is building a special metal cage or capsule in which the miners, one by one, will make their hour-long ascent to the surface when the rescue tunnel is finished.
"The capsule must provide oxygen, communications, light, video link and a harness to secure the person to prevent him from using his legs while he is being pulled to the surface," top Navy commander Sergio Sandoval told 24 Horas television channel.
He said the capsule, which is being built at the Navy's shipyards, will include an escape hatch and safety device the rider can use to lower himself back to the starting point should the capsule get stuck along the way up.
Officials have been working to keep up the morale of the miners, trapped for 29 days now, amid warnings that it could take until Christmas to get them out.
The men have been told salvation is more than two months away, but not given a precise date.
The NASA report also recommended "to improve the lighting conditions so there's an ambiance of day/night," said Michael Duncan, a doctor at the US space agency's Houston Space Center in Texas.
"We are very impressed with the quality of the health (care) being provided, the support being provided, to the miners, and to the families," Duncan told reporters.
"Let me say these miners have a tremendous will to survive."
Pinera said soon a cable with a video-link would be lowered so the men can watch a live broadcast of a friendly soccer match between Chile and Ukraine next week.
Date created : 2010-09-04