Rescuers could reach 33 trapped miners by early November, well before the initially projected date of Christmas, the chief engineer said on Wednesday as drills edged closer to the men’s dank shelter.
The two drills currently digging rescue shafts both surpassed the 300m mark of the 700m they must dig to reach the men who have been stuck below ground since Aug. 5, rescue coordinator Rene Aguilar said.
“Best-case scenario,” he said “we should be reaching them by the first days of November,” but he cautioned that once they reach the men, both shafts need to be re-drilled and widened enough to bring them out.
At the latest, he said, early December should see the drill on target and the men coming out to be reunited with their families.
The fastest drill, a T-130 machine dubbed the “Plan B” option, resumed work on Tuesday after engineers extracted broken drill pieces that had forced the machine to stop work for nearly a week. The shaft is now 368m deep, Aguilar said.
A smaller Strata 950 drill, part of “Plan A,” also continued tunneling down, reaching 308m, Aguilar said, adding that at 380m it would stop for routine maintenance.
The maintenance work will likely take place at the weekend and the Strata should resume drilling on Monday or Tuesday, he said.
Rescuers still plan to launch a third effort, “Plan C,” which involves a massive drill used for oil exploration that is being assembled on a soccer-pitch size base near the mine. Aguilar said the installation of the drill was 70 percent along and that it should be operational by Monday.
The trapped miners have become national heroes since they were found alive on Aug. 22, 17 days after they were trapped by a cave-in in the San Jose gold and copper mine.
Their spirits were lifted this week by news that one of the miner’s wives had given birth to a daughter via Caesarean section.
On Wednesday, miner Ariel Ticona managed to see his daughter’s birth a day later, via video, an official said.
Ticona’s daughter Esperanza — Hope in Spanish — was born on Tuesday at a clinic near the town of Copiapo, and a relative recorded the event to show it to the proud father.
The video was sent down to the miners 700m below the surface via a shaft through which they also receive food, water and other supplies. The miners also have phone and video links to talk to families staying at a makeshift tent city pitched outside the mine, as well as electronic devices to watch recordings.
“It was very moving,” said an emotional Alberto Iturra, the psychologist on the rescue team.
“The whole group of miners have offered their support,” he said. “The joy of one is shared by all here.”
Iturra said the miners were in good physical shape.
“They’ve all regained their normal weight ... continue doing their exercises” and follow all the instructions they are given, he said..
He said that starting tomorrow, they will eat empanadas (meat pies) and grilled steak, like all Chileans celebrating the country’s bicentennial independence anniversary on Sept. 18.