Chilean miners: A way out, at last, as drill punches through
A drilling rig punched through to where 33 Chilean miners have been trapped for 66 days under the Chilean desert, raising cheers, tears and hopes on Saturday.
San Jose Mine, Chile
A drilling rig punched through to the underground purgatory where 33 miners have been trapped for 66 agonizing days under the Chilean desert, raising cheers, tears and hopes on Saturday.Skip to next paragraph
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Relatives waiting at "Camp Hope" on the surface waved Chilean flags and shouted with joy as word spread of the breakthrough, and one man frantically rang a bell even before a siren sounded to officially confirm that the escape shaft had reached the miners. They are still several days away from rescue: Engineers must first check the shaft and decide whether to reinforce it before pulling them to the surface.
"We feel an enormous happiness, now that I'm going to have my brother," said Darwin Contreras, whose brother Pedro, a 26-year-old heavy machine operator, is stuck down below. "When the siren rang out, it was overwhelming. Now we just have to wait for them to get out, just a little bit longer now."
The "Plan B" drill won a three-way race against two other drills to carve a hole wide enough for an escape capsule to pull the miners out one by one.
While "Plan A" and "Plan C" stalled after repeatedly veering off course, the "Plan B" drill reached the miners at a point 2,041 feet below the surface at 8:05 a.m., after 33 days of drilling.
"There is nothing more important than saving, possibly saving 33 lives. There's no more important job than that," Hart said. "We've done our part, now it's up to them to get the rest of the way out."
The milestone thrilled Chileans, who have come to see the rescue drama as a test of the nation's character and pride, and eased some anxiety among the miners' families.
But now comes a difficult judgment call: The rescue team must decide whether it's more risky to pull the miners through unreinforced rock, or to insert tons of heavy steel pipe into the curved shaft to protect the miners on their way up.
"This is an important achievement," Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said, "but we still haven't rescued anybody. This rescue won't be over until the last person below leaves this mine."
President Sebastian Pinera promised "to do everything humanly possible" to keep the miners safe, and as the drill was nearing the breakthrough, he said he had kept his promise.