COPIAPO: All 33 Chilean miners trapped deep underground for 17 days have been found alive, Chile’s president confirmed on Sunday.
But as relatives celebrated outside the San Jose mine at Copiapo, 800 kilometre, north of Santiago, rescue workers said it could take four months to get them out.
A probe sent some 2,257 feet (688 metres) deep into the collapsed mine early on Sunday morning came back with a handwritten note: “All 33 of us are fine in the shelter.”
The President, Mr Sebastian Pinera euphorically waved the note written in red letters.
Mr Pinera then climbed a nearby hill with officials and family members and planted 33 flags and sang the national anthem. Mine officials and relatives of the workers had hoped the men reached a shelter inside the mine when the tunnel collapsed on August 5. But they had said air and food supplies would only last 48 hours. Rescuers drilled repeatedly in an effort to reach the shelter, but failed seven times; they blamed the errors on the mining company’s maps.
Hopes rose after the eighth attempt early on Sunday when rescuers heard hammering sounds. Crews sent down a probe, then pulled it up with two notes the trapped miners had placed inside a packet attached to the drill bit, including the one Mr Pinera read.
Mario Gomez, 63-year-old is one of the trapped miners, wrote the other note to his wife, confirming the miners’ location underground and saying he loved her.
Gomez wrote that the miners used vehicles for light and a backhoe (digger) to dig a canal to retrieve underground water. The opening the miners used to deliver the notes is not wide enough to haul up the miners.
Rescue equipment brought from outside the country was being assembled on Sunday to dig a tunnel 68 centimetre in diameter through which the miners will eventually be brought to the surface.
The hole already drilled will be used to send down small capsules containing food, water and oxygen if necessary, and sound and video equipment so the miners can better communicate with loved ones and rescuers.
A video camera lowered down the probe shaft showed some of the miners, stripped to the waist in the underground heat, waving happily. But they weren’t able to establish audio contact, Mr Pinera told reporters at the scene. The men already have been trapped underground longer than all but a few miners rescued in recent history.
Hundreds of workers are using equipment from the US and Australia in the Chilean rescue.