Miners not told rescue could be months away

Chilean officials worked to launch a gruelling, four-month rescue operation to save 33 trapped miners, while keeping the men in the dark about how long they will have to wait for deliverance.

Last Updated: Aug 25, 2010, 15:17 PM IST

Copiapo: Chilean officials worked
to launch a gruelling, four-month rescue operation to save 33
trapped miners, while keeping the men in the dark about how
long they will have to wait for deliverance.

Drilling of an escape tunnel through 700 meters of
earth and rock will begin "by the end of the week," the
engineer in charge of the rescue mission, Andres Sougarret,
told reporters.

In the meantime, he said he will be mapping out a path
to the miners that aims to avert another collapse at the San
Jose gold and copper mine like the one that sealed its exit on
August 5.

The miners were shut off from the outside world in a
hot, dank shelter deep underground until Sunday, when rescuers
punched a eight centimeter diameter hole through to them and
found that they were alive and in good spirits.

Sougarret`s plan is to drill a new tunnel that will be
33 centimetres in diameter and then expand it outward to
double the size, creating a chimney large enough to pull the
miners out one by one.

But he has said that could take three to four months,
raising concerns about whether the miners would be able to
endure for so long.

Sougarret said he made the decision to not tell the
miners they would likely have to sit tight in the shelter --
roughly the size of a living room tucked to one side of a
lengthy tunnel -- until maybe Christmas.

Nutrients and water were being supplied to the miners
through the narrow drill hole.

An intercom cable also has been threaded through the
hole, enabling the miners to communicate with the surface,
where their desperate but relieved families were camped.

President Sebastian Pinera yesterday spoke with the
trapped miners through the cable and heard one of them issue
an anguished plea for a quick rescue.

"We`re hoping all of Chile makes an effort to get us
out of here by the 18th" of September, Chile`s Independence
Day, which this year coincides with the bicentennial of the
end of Spanish colonial rule.

"Mr President," said Luis Urzua, "we need you to be
strong and to rescue us as soon as possible. Don`t abandon
us."

"You won`t be left alone, nor have you been alone a
single moment," Pinera answered without letting on how very
long the rescue operation would take.

"The government is with you, the whole country is with
you and I want you to stay calm because your families are
cared for and have all our support," the president added.

PTI