'Plan B' to have Chilean miners free in two months
Above and right: video stills showing some of the 33 workers who remain trapped underground in a copper and gold mine at Copiapo, Chile. REUTERS
CHILEAN officials were ready last night to approve a faster drilling plan to rescue 33 miners, which could see the men freed within weeks as fears were expressed over the risks of the planned four-month rescue.
A rescue dig due to begin today would keep the men underground until after Christmas. Pressure for quicker action included a demand from President Sebastian Pinera for the miners to be freed before September 18, the bicentennial anniversary of Chile's independence from Spanish colonial rule.
While that goal does not appear to be feasible, a proposal that would free the men in two months has been drawn up. Health Minister Jaime Manalich said: "Plan B has already been designed."
The Chilean government is enthusiastic about the shorter time frame, which has been proposed by a major commercial drilling business. It would entail using a specialised device to widen one of the three narrow boreholes that keeps the miners connected to the world.
If that tactic worked, it would be much quicker than the current plan of gouging a new shaft to reach the men.
"We can broaden the hole that is already there with the latest-generation machines and using a wider diameter bore," said Walter Herrera, senior manager with Geotec, the company that developed 'Plan B'.
"We think it could be quicker than the other plan. In ideal conditions, this could take about two months."
The men have been trapped 2,300ft underground since the August 5 cave-in at the San Jose copper and gold mine in the Atacama Desert near Copiapo, 500 miles north of the capital Santiago.
With rescuers fearful of triggering another collapse, the original plan involves drilling about 50ft a day to create a 26in-wide shaft through which the miners would be pulled.
Food, drink and clean clothes continued to be delivered to the men yesterday. At the encampment established by relatives, tensions remained high.
"We just want the digging to start," said Jessica Rojas, whose husband Esteban has promised her that when he is freed, she will have a church wedding in a bridal gown -- 25 years after they married. "We have had enough of the circus and want to get some sort of normality back in our lives," she added.
Yesterday Pope Benedict said he was praying constantly for the miners and urged them to remain calm. (© Daily Telegraph, London)