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Rescuers expect to reach Chilean miners by Saturday

By Karl Penhaul, CNN
Firefighters stand by near the San Jose mine at Copiapo, Chile, Thursday as rescuers closed in on 33 trapped miners.
Firefighters stand by near the San Jose mine at Copiapo, Chile, Thursday as rescuers closed in on 33 trapped miners.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "Plan B" drill has just another 89 meters to go to break through
  • NEW: Engineers still have to decide whether to put casing in rescue shaft
  • NEW: With casing, it may be up to 10 days before miners are freed
  • NEW: Chile's first lady is expected to meet with miners' families Friday

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) -- Rescuers in Chile have just another 89 meters (292 feet) left to drill and are expected to break through into the area where 33 miners are trapped by Saturday, Chilean Mines Minister Laurence Golborne said Thursday.

Depending on whether engineers decide to encase the rescue shaft with steel casing, the 33 miners could be extracted from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine within two to 10 days after breakthrough, Golborne added.

The miners have been trapped in a chamber since August 5. They are in contact with the outside world through a small bore hole that is being used to send them food, water, supplies and other necessities.

Rescue crews have been drilling three separate, wider holes to send down a rescue capsule that will bring the men to the surface. Those rescue attempts have been labeled Plans A, B and C.

"We're advancing pretty well in Plan B. We restarted the drilling process and are hoping we can get contact more or less this Saturday. Depending [on] if we have to change the drill hammer or not it could be a bit earlier, but we're predicting [the] date for Saturday," Golborne said.

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Mine engineers will have to decide whether they need to encase the shaft with steel tubing to prevent rockfalls and further collapses as they extract the miners.

"We have to wait two, three or four days if we do not encase and eight to 10 days if we do the encasing. That will be based on technical matters decided by technical experts," he added. .

The so-called Plan B drill, a Schramm T-130 rig, hit a depth of 535 meters by 8 a.m. Thursday following a 20-hour stoppage to change drill hammers and to survey the rescue shaft with a miniature camera.

Earlier this week, the Plan B drill cut through 53 meters in just 12 hours, which means technically it could cover the remaining 89 meters down to the miners in just 20 hours.

One of the rescue coordinators, Rene Aguilar, an engineer for state copper company CODELCO, said earlier this week they may encase the first 100 meters of the shaft, a process that could take just 10 hours.

Once the miners are extracted they will undergo about two hours of health checks at a field hospital that has been set up at the mine. They will then be reunited with one or two immediate family members.

Next, all 33 will be flown by military helicopter to the regional hospital in the city of Copiapo -- approximately a 15-minute flight.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Sept. 19 during his last visit to the mine that he planned to personally hug each of the 33 miners as they were pulled from the rescue shaft. He is due to depart on a government tour to Europe mid-month.

First lady Cecilia Morel de Pinera is expected to arrive at the San Jose mine sometime Friday, Golborne said.

"Her plan is to spend some time with the miners' families," he said.

Maria Segovia, sister of trapped miner Dario Segovia, said relatives would begin a vigil Thursday night that they will keep until a drill breaks through to the miners.

 
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