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Rescue team trains for final stages of effort to reach trapped miners

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
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Chilean miners may be freed soon
  • 16-member team is "prepared," team leader says
  • Teams will work in 12-hour shifts
  • 2 new rescue capsules arrived Wednesday
  • Plan B drill could break through in the next several days

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) -- The 16-man rescue team that will carry out the operation to free 33 trapped miners trained for their mission at the mine site in northern Chile Wednesday.

"Without a doubt it will be one of the most difficult assignments," said the team's leader, Ovidio Rodríguez Nuñez. "Despite that we are ready for mining emergency, that's especially true for this mission that they have chosen us for. We are prepared, the team members have met and we are sure of our success."

In addition to Rodríguez, the team is made up of ten rescue workers from Codelco, the state mining company, two rescue workers from the Atacama region, where the mine is located, and three Navy paramedics.

"Each of them have the mental and physical abilities to carry out the tasks they will have that day," Codelco engineer Rene Aguilar said. "Both the people who work above aground and those who work in the mine."

Video: Mental state of miners
Video: What will the mine rescue look like?

Aguilar said most of the men were experts in underground rescue, fire rescue and mining accidents.

Working in 12 hour shifts, Aguilar said, two of the men would be selected to go into the mine while four more assisted them on the surface.

"Over the next few days they will work with the capsule in tubing we have for tests," said Aguilar. The men's assignments, Aguilar said, have not been decided.

The capsule is the cage-like device, dubbed the Phoenix, that rescuers will use to pluck out the miners one by one after a drill reaches the men. A test of the capsule in tubing built to simulate conditions in the mine was called a success by rescue officials last week.

Two additional capsules arrived on a flat bed truck at the mine site Wednesday. On the side of the wood box carrying one capsule was scrawled "For the Rescue of the 33." Also Wednesday arrived at the mine site heavy winches capable of lifting 400 tons. The winches will be used to build platform over the drill hole site and put steel casing into the finished hole.

The casing would act as buffer between the capsule and mine walls and also reinforce the walls. Officials have said a camera will be lowered into the finished hole to determine how much casing needs to be placed there.

At least 100 meters of the steel casing will need to be placed at the top of the hole, a process, Aguilar said, that will take at least 10 hours.

The Plan B was within striking distance of the trapped men, 519 meters as of 8 a.m. Wednesday. It had drilled 53 meters in 10 hours, Chief of Rescue Operations Andre Sougarret said.

Officials planned to stop drilling late Wednesday with the Plan B drill after reaching 535 meters, Sougarret said, to place a camera in the hole to inspect the conditions of the mine. Sougarret said the drill was reaching a passage in the mine and that rescuers were treating the obstacle with "maximum precaution."

A Plan B drill bit was destroyed last month after it collided with a beam in the mine.

The Plan A drill had stopped drilling while its bit was being changed, Sougarret said. The drill will being begin its work at midnight.

The Plan C oil drilling platform had reached 314 meters, he said, an advance of 82 meters.

Once the Plan B drill begins work again, at its current rate of progress it could break through to the men in the next several days.