Santiago: Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has said 33 miners are alive and contact has been established with them 17 days after a structural collapse trapped them below ground.
"All 33 of us are well inside the shelter," Pinera said late Sunday, waving a message scribbled in red pencil that the trapped miners sent to rescuers on the surface through a shaft drilled 700 meters below the ground.
"This came out of the ground. It`s a message from our miners telling us they are alive, that they are together," Pinera told reporters outside the mine, 800 kilometres north of Santiago.
The miners have been trapped since August 05 in the San Jose gold and copper mine near the northern city of Copiapo. Until yesterday, there had been no word from them and hopes for their survival were fading.
However, the chief engineer in charge of the rescue operation, Andres Sougarret, said it would take at least four months to reach them.
"I thank the miners for their bravery, for their courage in holding out more than two weeks in the depths of the mountain," said Pinera.
"Now we must keep working. We have to enclose the shaft so we can send them water, food, lighting and communication" equipment.
"But the most important thing is already there, moral support. The miners know we`re striving to rescue them. They know it`s a matter of days when they`ll be rescued," he added.
Despite Pinera`s optimistic scenario, Sougarret warned that extracting the trapped miners from their deep hollow would take time and that a more powerful digging machine was needed in order to drill a shaft to the shelter where the miners are confined.
"A shaft 66 centimetres in diameter (will take) at least 120 days" to reach the miners, the engineer said.