Special Drill from Australia
Engineers in Chile have begun drilling the rescue shaft through which they hope to eventually free the 33 men trapped in a collapsed gold mine. The miners have been stuck 700m (2,300ft) underground for the past three weeks. Officials say it could take up to four months for the tunnel to be completed and the men to be winched out. Some of the miners have developed fungal infections and body sores in the hot conditions underground.
A huge Australian-made "Strata 950" excavator began work late on Monday evening. The rescue shaft is likely to take 90 to 120 days to complete. Once finished to a width of about 60cm, a capsule will be lowered down so the miners can be hauled out one-by-one. Mining Minister Laurence Golborne had said up to 10 options were being considered in the efforts to rescue the men. But he dismissed suggestions that the men could be out within a month, saying: "Up to now there is no alternative... that would allow us to get them out in 30 days."
On Sunday, the miners were each able to speak to family members for one minute by telephone. Alicia Campos, said she broke down as she said goodbye to her son, Daniel Herrero, promising him she would see him again.
"His voice is the same. He's not good, but not so bad either," she said.
Jessica Chille said speaking to her husband, Dario Segovia, had been "a balm to my heart".
The men are trapped in a refuge chamber of the mine, where they managed to take shelter after a rock collapse on 5 August. Rescue workers have been using narrow shafts to send essential supplies to the trapped men, and ensure they have adequate ventilation. One of the men has some medical training and has been able to give his colleagues vaccinations against tetanus. They will be sent flu vaccinations later this week.
Quick-dry clothing has also been sent down, after some of the miners said they were suffering from skin conditions in the hot, wet conditions. Others have been sent mats to sleep on to protect them from the damp ground. They have also been sent mp3 players to listen to music and a small screen, so they can watch football matches.
The drill will first make a pilot shaft and then widen it out sufficiently for a rescue capsule to be lowered Four experts from Nasa are due to arrive at the mine this week at the request of the Chilean authorities, to advise the miners and rescuers on how to cope with their situation. The team includes a doctor, nutritionist, and engineer and a psychologist. NASA deputy chief medical officer Michael Duncan said that while the environment was different to that experienced by astronauts, "the human response in "physiology, behaviour, responses to emergencies is quite similar".
"We think that some of the things we learned in research and operation can be adaptable to the miners who are trapped under the ground," he said.
Mr Duncan praised the responses of the miners and officials, saying they appeared to be well organised.
"They have done a lot for the miners, and in fact the miners have done a lot for themselves underground," he said.
The men are living in unbearable conditions, that would drive most sane people mad, but they are cheerful and encouraging to their families. What brave men they are. I know we all hope they are rescued safely and much sooner than estimated.