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Chilean miners told they may be trapped until Christmas

A major breakthrough in the rescue efforts to free 33 Chilean miners has given hope to the men trapped over 2,000 feet beneath the surface.

Till recently, the drill being used to bore a rescue tunnel reached the cavern in which the miners are trapped, rescue officials will now use another bore to widen the tunnel to 26 inches (66 centimetres) in diameter in order for the men to be pulled to safety.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said that the better-than-expected progress means the men may be rescued even earlier than previously thought.

The rescue had originally been expected to take until Christmas given the complexity of the operation, but rescue officials said earlier that they thought the rescue might be complete by early November. This timeline has now been revised once more.
“The timeline we have presented takes into consideration contingencies, that always present themselves in these circumstances, and they have been fewer than expected. At this point we’re a little bit ahead,” said Golborne.

Drilling the wider tunnel will take another few weeks, after which the 2,000 foot length will need to be reinforced with steel pipes in order to prevent a cave-in and each man will need to be individually hoisted to the surface.

The miners trapped beneath the ground have become national heroes in Chile and their celebration of the country’s bicentennial of independence was broadcast nationally, showing their small cavern decorated with the national flag and colours.
Rescuers are sending clothes, medicine and games down the 700-metre borehole, which has the diameter of a grapefruit, to help keep the men physically and mentally fit.

The government has asked Nasa and Chile’s submarine fleet for tips on survival in extreme, confined conditions, and are intending to send them rations similar to those used on space missions.

The miners have lost about 10kg each after having survived on half a glass of milk and two mouthfuls of canned tuna every 48 hours until supplies ran out. They have been told to watch their weight so they will be able to squeeze through the narrow escape shaft that is being drilled, and given tape measures to ensure they keep their waists below 90cm.

The men sent samples of water from underground tanks to the surface for testing, and rescuers are sending down fortified mineral water.

The miners are in good health, but officials are looking for ways to help ease the psychological pressure. They plan to set-up special lighting in the tunnel to mimic night and day, with dull red lights to help the miners sleep.

Until now, the miners have used vehicle batteries to power lights and charge their helmet lamps.

The miners and their relatives are exchanging letters through the shaft.
“You have no idea how much my soul ached to have been underground and unable to tell you I was alive,” Edison Pena said in a letter to his family. “The hardest thing is not being able to see you.”

Esteban Rojas promised his wife he would finally buy her a wedding dress when he got out, and hold a church ceremony, 25 years after they wed in a registry office.
Officials are vetting letters sent by relatives, to avoid any shocks, although some disagree with the method.

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