Chile: The spectacular rescue of 33 miners trapped in a Chilean mine was accelerated Tuesday by officials confident everything was set to bring the men to the surface, under the blazing scrutiny of the world`s media.
It was "fairly certain" the operation would begin at 8:00 pm (2300 GMT) Tuesday, four hours earlier than scheduled, local lawmaker Carlos Vilches told AFP.
Each miner was to be slowly brought to the surface individually through a narrow, rescue shaft that was itself completed last weekend, well ahead of the original forecast of Christmas.
The tense trip through the shaft in a specially built metal cage, which was expected to spin nauseatingly, was to take around 20 minutes as it climbed 622 meters (2,041 feet) -- nearly the height of two Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other.
But the time needed to send the cage down each time and put each miner in its harness and do final checks meant an hour to extract each man. Officials hoped the rescue would be done by late Thursday.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, accompanied by Bolivian President Evo Morales, was to arrive at the San Jose mine, in northern Chile, to oversee the start of the rescue.
Thirty-two of the miners are Chilean. One is Bolivian. They have been trapped for 10 weeks, since August 5 when the upper galleries of the mine collapsed, making their underground record of survival unprecedented.
They were detected alive August 22, triggering the frantic rescue operation in which the government has spared no expense - boosting the popularity of Pinera and his mining minister, Laurence Golborne.
News that the men may get out even earlier than expected only sharpened the palpable anticipation in a haphazard tent camp at the entrance to the mine where 800 of the miners` relatives have been maintaining a vigil.
"I`ve barely slept. I went to bed at 4:30 am and got up at 6:00 am. The stress and anxiety are huge," said Alberto Segovia, whose brother Dario Segovia is among the miners.
"He`s OK, but he`s a bit nervous. I saw him yesterday (Monday) on a screen, for a friend`s birthday, and his hands were trembling a bit. All of them seemed well," he added.
Jean Romagnoli, part of the medical component of the official rescue team, told reporters in the camp that "all of the men are in excellent condition." He said he believed that "in a way, they are even better prepared than us."
Romagnoli also said he did not have know the order in which the miners would be hauled up, but said it was being worked out with the trapped men themselves. "No one wants to be the first out or the last. They all want to come out together," said Alberto Avalos, the uncle of Florencio and Renan Avalos, brothers both in the mine.
The camp at the mine has swelled with the arrival of hundreds of journalists to cover the rescue. Chilean officials said around 2,000 media workers were registered, necessitating rotation lists for viewing access to the rescue shaft. elevision crews had built their own platforms, on which reporters had to speak over the din of dozens of electricity generators.
The local police commander, Mario Rozas, said between 3,500 and 4,000 people were expected to be at the mine to witness the operation. When the miners do make it to the surface, they will leave behind dark isolation for a blaze of publicity normally reserved for movie stars or sporting heroes.
If all goes to plan, the miners will be brought out and straight into the care of doctors standing by. Up to three close relatives will be able to see them then, too. Authorities intend to keep the men under voluntary observation for two days -- after which they will be free to exercise their new-found fame.
Chilean media reports suggest the men are anticipating lucrative book and film deals that may limit what they end up saying to the waiting news media.