Chile miners soon to `see` loved ones over video link

The technology will be made possible by lowering fibre-optic cable to men.

Copiapo: The 33 Chilean miners trapped underground longer than anyone on record will soon be able to see and talk to loved ones through a video link, Health Minister Jaime Manalich said on Thursday.

The morale-boosting technology will be made possible by lowering a fibre-optic cable to the men, who were cut off deep down in the San Jose mine by a cave-in more than four weeks ago.

"They will be able to have private conversations with their families through a TV screen," Manalich told reporters.

Family members will likely be restricted in what they can say, as is already the case with written notes read first by authorities to make sure there are no remarks that could create false hopes or lead to despair.

"For example, one family wrote `We`re sure they`ll get you out before (Chile`s) national holiday September 18.` We asked them not to do that," Manalich said.

Official estimates are that it will take three to four months to extract the men from 700 meters (2,300 feet) below the earth`s surface. They have been told salvation is more than two months away, but not given a precise date.

Manalich insisted, though, "our miners are as solid as rock" and were holding up well, physically and mentally, under their ordeal.

The careful psychological attention being given to the miners came as the rescue operation to save them hit early problems.

The drill which started this week boring down to the men had to be stopped on Thursday to cement over a geological fault that threatened to make the escape shaft unstable.

"We have managed 41 meters (135 feet)" so far, the chief engineer overseeing the rescue operation, Andre Sougarret, told reporters. "The operation will continue at 1:00 am (0500 GMT) Friday," he said.

A second drill is on the way to begin another shaft as a Plan B, in case the original bore encounters problems.

Sougarret said the second machine should start work from Sunday, enlarging one of the three existing supply holes.

Initially, the wider shaft would be for sending larger objects to the trapped miners, but officials say an evaluation will be carried out to see whether it could work as an escape tunnel.

A team of NASA experts was at the mine, near the town of Copiapo in northern Chile, to dispense valuable expertise in keeping men healthy over long periods of isolation.

Already, the team told Chilean officials to be as honest as possible with the miners about their predicament but not to give them any fixed date for when they will finally see the light of day.

Simulating day and night was also important, to give the men a rhythm in their hot, dank subterranean surroundings, and Chilean officials said NASA was helping to rig up a lighting system to do that effectively.

The miners were being fed, hydrated, clothed and medicated and given forms of entertainment -- videos and playing cards -- to while away the long wait.

Since Thursday, they were also being fed proper, hot meals of nutritionally balanced dishes, which "was well received by some of the miners”, according to the National Emergencies Office.

Bureau Report

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