Rescue teams will begin the evacuation of 33 trapped Chilean miners at midnight on Tuesday, local time, Chilean authorities have announced after engineers successfully tested a specially designed rescue capsule.
AFP - Chilean officials are "just hours" from starting a historic operation Tuesday to rescue 33 miners trapped underground in Chile for more than two months, Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said.
"We are just hours from beginning this process. But we will only do it when it is safe to do so," he told reporters at the site of the pending operation, in the San Jose mine in northern Chile.
Golborne would not give an exact starting time, saying only that the rescue was expected to begin late Tuesday.
"We will start as soon as we can," once last-minute tests were completed, he said.
The minister did not confirm another official's statement to AFP that the rescue would begin at 8:00 pm (2300 GMT) Tuesday, four hours earlier than an initial forecast of midnight (0300 GMT Wednesday).
"It's fairly certain that we can start the rescue today at 8:00 pm," Carlos Vilches, the legislative representative for the Copiapo region where the mine is located, said.
"It was within our planning to move things forward if the (preparatory) stages were completed in advance. This is what happened," Vilches said.
Originally, officials had thought it would take until Christmas to get the miners out.
But the drilling of a rescue tunnel 622 meters (2,041 feet) deep to reach the gallery where the miners were trapped was completed last weekend, well ahead of time.
Since then, tests of the tunnel have been successfully completed and all looked set to slowly bring the men up, one by one. The last of them was expected to be saved by late Thursday.
Officials were increasingly confident that they had everything prepared to begin earlier.
"We hope nothing will go wrong. We feel very well prepared," Golborne said, speaking in English to some of the 2,000 international journalists who have turned up to cover the rescue.
He explained that the rescue would begin with one rescue worker being lowered down the shaft in the specially built cage that would haul up the miners one by one.
One of the miners would then be lifted to the surface in the cage, which would subsequently descend with another rescue worker.
They will continue to alternate until a total of five rescue personnel were in the tunnel where the miners have been trapped for 68 days.
Golborne said each rotation of the cage would take around an hour: a few minutes to strap the miner into the contraption, an ascent that would take 10-15 minutes, and then dropping the cage again down the shaft, which would take 25-30 minutes.
The five rescuers would be the last to be brought to the surface.
The 32 Chileans and one Bolivian were trapped in the San Jose mine in northern Chile on August 5, when its upper galleries collapsed.
They were detected alive 17 days later, triggering the frantic rescue operation in which the government has spared no expense.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera was to arrive at the mine Tuesday to oversee the rescue and, as he told reporters, to "give support to the families" of the miners.
Date created : 2010-10-12