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Chile miners: Final test run underway for capsule to reach trapped miners

October 12, 2010 |  5:38 pm


Chilean rescue workers are lowering an empty capsule down a half-mile-long shaft to test its communications equipment before they begin bringing the first of 33 trapped miners to the surface. The bullet-shaped cage is big enough for one person to squeeze inside, and is being lowered and raised by a massive winch.

Further inspections of the half-mile tunnel will then be carried out before the first paramedics are lowered to the cramped pocket where the miners await. After preliminary physical inspections, the first miner is expected to begin the 20-minute ascent to freedom at about 8 pm Pacific time.  

The miners have been trapped a half-mile below ground since Aug. 5 when a collapse blocked all exits. They have lived and worked to aid their own rescue in dim light and humid, 90-degree temperatures. If the rescue goes well, they will emerge into the frigid darkness of the Chilean night, and the embrace of family members awaiting them.

Miners’ relatives, government officials and media representatives all eagerly awaited the first sign of a successful rescue on what was the 69th day of captivity for the men. President Sebastian Pinera arrived at the mine Tuesday to see the rescue efforts and greet the miners.

“We made a promise to never surrender and we kept it,” Pinera said.

As relatives waited for details about when their loved ones were to be hoisted up aboard the Phoenix rescue capsule, they said they were allowing themselves to feel an enormous sense of relief.

Juan Alcalipe, whose son-in-law Osma Araya, 30, was among the trapped miners, said he was excited to be so close to the end of a nightmare. Araya, he said, won’t be returning to work at the mine.

“My daughter won't let him,” Alcalipe said.

The first miner to be rescued will be Florencio Avalos and the last will be foreman Juan Urzua, government officials said. If all goes smoothly, all the miners should be freed during the next two days, officials said.

Near the rescue site were containers that were to serve as a makeshift clinic, where for two hours the miners are to receive first aid if needed and be given the chance to shower and change clothes.

Farther up a steep incline, past enormous cranes and other equipment used in the rescue effort, were a half-dozen container-like structures where miners were to be reunited with their families.

Earlier, Golborne said he was not ready to declare “mission accomplished” despite his confidence in the rescue preparations. He said officials hoped that at least one of the miners would be out of the mine before the end of the day Tuesday.

-- Chris Kraul in Copiapo, Chile