Trapped miners in Chile rejoice over breakthrough with drill
SANTIAGO, Chile — Drilling equipment pounded its way yesterday 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 12-inch-wide drill guided by a pilot hole half its diameter reached 2,070 feet 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 28 inches across — wide enough for the miners to get out.
Video shot by the miners and released by the government later yesterday 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 from the depths.
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 that 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.
Golborne did not provide a new estimate.
The government did not provide any reaction from the miners on the breakthrough; it has made a habit of waiting a day to release video of the trapped men.
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 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 Monday.