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Hopes of early rescue as drill reaches miners

Drilling equipment pounded its way into one of the caverns where 33 miners have been trapped for a month and a half, completing a bore hole ahead of schedule and raising hopes that the men can be pulled out earlier than expected.

The 30cm wide drill guided by a pilot hole half its diameter reached 633 meters beneath the surface, puncturing the top of a passage near the chamber in the San Jose copper and gold mine where the men have taken refuge.

The next step is to place a wider drill on the rig and start a hole 71cm across -- wide enough for the miners to get out.


Video shot by the miners and released by the government later Friday showed scenes of bedlam below when the drill broke through, sending a shower of water and rock down into the chamber. "Viva Chile!" the miners cried, hugging each other and posing for the camera with broad smiles and headlamps beaming.

"We are extremely excited by what has been done today," said Mario Sepulveda, who has become a spokesman of sorts for his fellow miners and relays most communications.

Now it's time for the third and final stage of the rescue, another unidentified miner said into the camera.

The government previously said it would take until early November to rescue the miners under the most optimistic scenario, but Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said now "we're a little bit ahead". The earlier estimate had built in the possibility of more setbacks than the effort has seen so far, he said.

The miners have endured sweltering conditions for weeks, and the discipline and resiliency they have shown through their ordeal has been a point of pride among Chileans -- perhaps especially so as the nation celebrates the bicentennial of its independence today.

The miners celebrated the bicentennial on Thursday, with beef and empanadas, and they decorated their chamber with a plastic Chilean flag.

Two rigs have been drilling holes separately to ensure that rescuers wouldn't have to start from the beginning if a major problem arose. A third, much larger rig is to begin drilling on Monday.

Once the larger hole is dug, it will be reinforced with a metal sleeve. The miners will be hoisted up in a steel "escape capsule" that is still being designed but will be fitted with oxygen tanks and a communications system.