Chilean rescuers optimistic that trapped miners to be freed sooner than thought

Rescuers achieve a key breakthrough in efforts to rescue 33 trapped miners, reaching the caverns where they are imprisoned with a bore hole that will now be widened so that they can be pulled to freedom. (Sept. 17)
By Michael Warren
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 10:37 PM

SANTIAGO, CHILE - Chilean rescuers are growing increasingly optimistic about pulling the 33 trapped miners out far sooner than originally estimated, and with drilling quickly advancing on three narrow escape chutes, they raced Tuesday to decide on a design for the capsule that will lift the men to safety.

President Sebastian Pinera had promised the men after they were found to be alive Aug. 22 that they would be home by Christmas. He then put hundreds of rescuers to work on three simultaneous drilling operations to reach them more quickly. The engineer in charge of the effort, Andre Sougarret, said Tuesday that rescuers were "sticking with the first days of November" as the final rescue date. But the team's numbers suggest faster progress.

Barring unforeseen complications, the biggest drill could break through to the miners in the second week of October. Sougarret has said it would then take eight days to insert an iron sleeve in the 28-inch-wide chute to prevent rock falls during each miner's 15-to-20-minute trip to the surface.

Engineers were viewing prototypes of the three planned capsules Tuesday. The specifications are elaborate; each capsule must have tanks to provide three hours of oxygen, wheels mounted on shock absorbers to maintain contact with the pipe's walls, an internal harness to prevent injury to the miners and a wireless communication system.

It also must fit through a 23-inch-diameter chute while providing room for the largest man trapped below, whose shoulders measure 19 inches across.

There will also be an escape hatch and interior harness system so the occupant can lower himself back down into the mine should the capsule get stuck.

- Associated Press

© 2010 The Washington Post Company