Copiapo: Rescuers could reach 33 trapped miners by early November, well before the initially projected date of Christmas, the chief engineer has said as drills edged closer to the men`s dank shelter.
The two drills currently digging rescue shafts both surpassed the 300-meter (980-foot) mark of the 700 meters they must dig in order to reach the men who have been stuck below ground since August 05, said rescue coordinator Rene Aguilar.
"Best case scenario," he said "we should be reaching them by the first days of November," he said, but 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 368 meters (1,200 feet) deep, Aguilar said.
A smaller Strata 950 drill, part of "Plan A”, also continued tunnelling down, reaching 308 meters (1,000 feet), Aguilar said, adding that at 380 meters (1,247 feet) it will 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 football-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 August 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.