Miners vie to be last man out as rescue tests begin
After more than two months trapped deep in a Chilean mine, 33 miners were tantalisingly close to rescue last night.
Sources at the mine said they were so giddy with confidence of success they were arguing over who would be the last one out.
The first tests of the three rescue capsules built by Chilean naval engineers will likely begin early on Wednesday, with the rescue to begin later that day and last about 48 hours, said Mining Minister Laurence Golborne.
A day after drillers broke through to where the miners have been abiding, officials began detailed monitoring of their health and sweating every detail of the half-mile ascent that is expected to last about 20 minutes for each man.
"Today we sent down special equipment to measure their heart rate, their respiration rate and skin temperature," said Jaime Manalich, Chile's health minister.
He said officials were concerned about hypertension because of the speed with which the miners will ascend the nearly half mile to the surface.
Another concern is blood clotting. To counteract it, the miners began taking 100 miligrams each of aspirin yesterday and will do so until the rescue, he said. They'll also put on compression socks and will be on a special high-calorie liquid prepared and donated by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration for the final six hours before being removed.
That's to prevent them from becoming nauseous as the rescue capsule is expected to rotate 360 degrees some 10-12 times through curves in the 28-inch-diameter escape hole on its way up.
And officials' biggest worry? "Panic attacks," said Mr Manalich.
"This is the first time in many weeks that the miners are going to be completely alone," he added.
A small video camera will be placed in the escape capsule so each miner's face can be watched as he ascends. Each will also have a mask attached to an oxygen tank affixed to their face and two-way voice communication.
A list has been drawn up suggesting the order in which the 33 miners should be rescued, and Mr Manalich said the otherwise co-operative miners were squabbling about it. "They were fighting with us yesterday because everyone wanted to be at the end of the line, not the beginning," he said. "It's a question of solidarity."
"I think they're more excited than scared or nervous," said Brandon Fisher, president of Center Rock Inc, the Pennsylvania company whose hammer-style drill heads created the hole. "That first guy up might be a little nervous, though."
The completion of the escape shaft on Saturday morning caused bedlam in the tent city known as 'Camp Hope', where the miners' relatives had held vigil for an agonising 66 days since a cave-in sealed off the gold and copper mine on August 5.
The drill that punctured through worked constantly for 28 days with a few breaks when some of its hammers fractured.
When it broke through on Saturday, the rescuers chanted, danced and sprayed champagne so excitedly that some of their hard hats tumbled off.
The escape capsules, equipped with spring-loaded wheels that will press against the hole's walls, will be lowered into the hole via a winch and the trapped miners will be brought up one by one. The completion of the escape shaft thrilled Chileans, who have come to see the rescue drama as a test of the nation's character and pride.
"What began as a potential tragedy is becoming a verified blessing," President Sebastian Pinera said in Santiago. "When we Chileans set aside our legitimate differences and unify in a grand and noble cause, we are capable of great things."