Trapped miners 'may take four months to reach light'
IT was deemed a miracle when 33 miners were found alive at the bottom of a mine in Chile, and last night the first moves in what could be a four-month rescue battle began.
Early yesterday, engineers reinforced a lifeline to the miners entombed deep inside the gold and copper mine.
It was the first step in preparing to keep them supplied with food, water, medicine and communications during the marathon operation it may take to carve a tunnel wide enough to pull them out.
A team of doctors and psychiatric experts also arrived yesterday at the remote mine, implementing a plan to maintain the miners' sanity too.
"We need to establish what psychological situation they are in. They need to understand what we know up here at the surface; that it will take many weeks for them to reach the light," Chilean health minister Jaime Manalich explained.
Engineers worked through the night to reinforce the six-inch-wide bore-hole that broke through to the miners' refuge -- more than 688 metres below the surface -- on Sunday.
The first capsules, which took about an hour to descend from the surface, will include water and food. The miners will almost certainly have lost a significant amount of weight since they were trapped with limited food on August 5.
An enormous machine with diamond-tipped drills capable of carving a person-sized tunnel through solid rock at a velocity of 20 metres a day was on its way yesterday to the San Jose gold and copper mine outside Copiapo in north-central Chile.
Euphoria that their men survived and anxiety for what's coming next meant for a sleepless night for the miners's families after a drill broke through to their refuge on Sunday and came back up with two notes attached, one saying all 33 were in good condition in a refuge.
"We stayed up all night long hoping for more news. They said that new images would appear, so we were up hoping to see them," said one relative.
Mario Gomez, perhaps the eldest of the trapped men at 63, wrote a note to his wife: "I want to tell everyone that I'm good and we'll surely come out okay."
Scrawling the words on a sheet of notebook paper the miners tied to the probe, he added: "Patience and faith. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive."
A video camera lowered down the shaft showed some of the miners, stripped to the waist in the heat, waving happily.