Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Chilean Mine Rescue Operation Under Way

Aired October 12, 2010 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Continuing with the breaking news coverage of the rescue, let's take you right to the scene, the preliminaries over, final checks of the rescue pod being done. We're hearing that some minor damage to the door has been taken care of, or was taken care of.

Also, some adjustments have been made to the wheels on the -- on the capsule right -- it's gone down below right now, the -- the pod now wired for video, for sound, for medical monitoring, as they bring up each of those miners, one by one.

Live pictures right now from the rescue site. You're in a remote corner of Chile, where the first of 33 trapped miners is waiting for his first breath of open air after 68 days underground, a truly remarkable story of endurance and of adaptation, solidarity and faith.

Nearly a sea of emergency workers, cameras, dignitaries and, of course, family members, whose only view of their loved ones these last two months has been in grainy video.

Shortly -- and there are no exact timetables here -- we're expecting several rescuers to go down one by one in that capsule, and then for the miners to start emerging. The -- the rescue pod right now is back underground, being lowered again, after the -- the problem with the door was apparently fixed.

We believe the first two of the miners who will be brought out -- first will be a man named Florencio Avalos, who acted as a cameraman during the whole ordeal, and Mario Sepulveda, who appeared as a narrator on a lot of the videos.

Now, we're live all night bringing it to you with coverage from Chile and a team of experts across the United States in medicine, mental health, engineering, mountaineering, mining. Bear Grylls, a survival expert, is going to join us shortly, as well as the people from NASA who consulted with the rescue with the Chilean government.

But let's start now with the live -- the latest, Karl Penhaul, who is on the ground.

Karl, where -- where are we now in this operation?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if we're looking at those live pictures now coming from the government TV camera, we can see Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and his wife greeting one of the rescue workers. That, I believe, is Manuel Gonzalez (ph). He is a mines rescue expert for the state-run copper company Codelco. He will be the first rescuer in the Phoenix capsule to head down to the mine shaft.

The fact that the president and his wife are now greeting him suggests that maybe the time is approaching, the minutes are ticking down to the moment where he will board the Phoenix capsule to ride it down to the bottom.

There have been little bits of delays, while engineers have been tweaking and fine-tuning, that, as you mentioned, because the wheels that are on the side of this Phoenix capsule were not deploying properly. That Phoenix capsule really has to have a snug fit inside that 28-inch -- 28-inch diameter rescue shaft.

If it is not a snug fit, the risk is that the capsule could gyrate, or spin around even, as it is coming back to the surface, and that could make the miners nauseous. It could even make them dizzy and even faint, which is obviously no good.

Those miners need to be in constant communication via a video and audio system with the rescuers on the surface. So, there's been the fine-tuning going on, as well, of course, making sure that the fiberoptic communications cables work, making sure that the oxygen cable works as well.

What we're told is that, possibly, there might be a third and final test run as some kind of weight, possibly sacks of sand, are put in the rescue capsule to make sure that it can support weight.

But the fact now that President Pinera is down there at the extraction hole indicates that we may have some movement, that we may have a rescuer going down into that mine shaft very soon, Anderson.

COOPER: And -- and, Karl, the plan, as we know it, is to put, what, at least five rescuers down? Are they all going to go down one by one, and then the first miner will start to come up? Do we know -- do we know how that's going to work?

PENHAUL: Initially, the initial plan had been to put four rescuers down and have all of those down in the mine shaft before the first miner comes up.

It now seems that the order of play has been shaken up a little, and what we're hearing now is that one rescuer will go down, and then one miner will be loaded aboard the Phoenix rescue capsule, and sent back up.

Now, just putting this in perspective, how long could that take from flash to bang, before we see one of those miners coming up? Well, on the way down, the Phoenix capsule will take about 25 minutes or 30 minutes to get down to the bottom of the mine shaft, because it is going down under its own weight. It is going down under the force of gravity.

Once that capsule reaches the bottom, a miner could take about 10 to 15 minutes to get in the capsule and also climatize himself and familiarize himself with the controls, with the audio and video system, with the wide-angle camera that gives him constant communication at the surface, and also familiarize himself with the oxygen mask and those kinds of systems.

And then his ride from the mine shaft up to the top may only take 10 or 15 minutes, because that is when the pulleys and winches are going to be cranking away. So, let's say approximately one hour after the first rescuer goes down is when we could see the first of the 33 miners coming back to the surface -- Anderson.

COOPER: It -- it looks in the video as if they're pulling the capsule now back up. There had been some talk of them loading some sandbags in very close from the mine, basically kind of measuring the weight of a miner, putting those sandbags in, just to see the weight, and let the operator of the capsule kind of get a feel for what it feels like to actually have the weight of a human being inside that capsule.

Whether or not that's been done, we don't know. But it does look as if that capsule is on its way back. That seems to be the -- that the way the cable is being pulled. And the next step, we believe, would be to put that rescue worker inside the capsule, and this operation would be really very close to -- to -- to starting to see that first miner coming out.

We're going to continue to watch this.

Karl, stand by for us.

Gary Tuchman is also there on the ground, as he has been now for the -- the last several days.

Gary, this is obviously being closely watched all around the -- the world, certainly all around Chile right now. How close are family members to -- to this -- this scene right now that we're looking at live, and how many family members are going to be allowed to see their loved one that -- when they come up?

GARY TUCHMAN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, almost all the family members, Anderson, are not as close as I am right now. We're on a vantage point. We have been allowed to go to a hill overlooking the site, so we're actually eyeballing the site and eyeballing the wheel you're talking about.

And it's amazing that this capsule, which is so high-tech and the stakes are so high, it's actually a very low-tech contraption that makes it work. It's a wheel with a rope attached to it. And, as you were speaking to me a moment ago...

COOPER: And, here, it's coming out.

TUCHMAN: ... the wheel stopped moving. Now it's moving again in the direction -- and it's coming out right now. And...

COOPER: Yes. TUCHMAN: And what we have seen -- and we see it dangling out right now, and a lot more people are there around, which may signify exactly what Karl was saying, that we may be about to put someone in there, the mine rescue official, and bring him down, and then maybe, within an hour, see our first miner come up.

But family members, three family members are being brought here for the first three miners who are coming up. Three people from each family are allowed to watch from inside tents near the site to keep an eye out when their loved one comes out of the capsule, and then meet with them at a reunion center that has been constructed specifically for this purpose.

But the rest of the families are being kept away. They will come when it's their turn, when their loved one comes up in the capsule.

COOPER: Gary, let's talk about this capsule as we continue to stay on these pictures.

It -- it's -- you know, Karl was pointing out that the hole is about 28 inches in diameter. The capsule itself, the interior space, I'm told, is about 21 to 22 inches in diameter. Obviously, it's a very tight fit. But it also has wheels that you can see now in the picture on the white part, the upper part of the capsule. The interior space, I'm told, is just about six feet, four inches.

Explain what those wheels do, Gary.

TUCHMAN: The wheels help it go up and down, Anderson, throughout this tube. This is 2,300 feet. It's almost half-a-mile up and down. And they tested it the other day to make sure that it could go down, and those wheels could operate without scraping dust and without scraping rocks and without any excessive damage.

And, indeed, it was a successful trip. They brought it down about 2,100 feet, not the whole, complete way. And we asked the mining official, why didn't you bring it all the way to the bottom just to make sure it worked completely?

And he said that: We were afraid that some of the miners would hope on for the ride up.

Now, he said that kind of half-jokingly and half-seriously. But the wheels are there to help make the ride up and town smoother, to take an estimated 16 to 17 minutes for each miner when they come up. It will take longer -- it will take a shorter amount of time for when it comes down.

COOPER: Well, it's certainly...

TUCHMAN: But, all in all, we're talking about, if it -- if it was a continuous process, Anderson -- now we have got some lights. I apologize about that.

COOPER: We're certainly seeing...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Look at this.

(CROSSTALK)

TUCHMAN: Now that can see me...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let's watch this. Let's just listen to this.

(APPLAUSE)

TUCHMAN: OK.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Careful.

COOPER: Karl Penhaul.

Karl, as you watch this, this is obviously the first rescuer going in.

PENHAUL: Exactly, Anderson.

And I just wanted to give you a little bit a sense of the scene around a TV screen here. Family members and well-wishers are gathering. They're blowing off an air horn and (INAUDIBLE) a national slogan in support of Chile, because that is -- because they have seen the first rescue worker, Manuel Gonzalez (ph), boarding the Phoenix 2 rescue capsule, that rescue capsule painted in the red, white and blue of the Chilean national flag.

A light, a flashlight on Manuel Gonzalez's (ph) face, and President Sebastian Pinera is on hand to see that Phoenix 2 capsule dropped down into the depths of the earth. Manuel Gonzalez (ph), he is a mine rescue expert from the state-run copper company Codelco. He is going to be the first man in the hole.

And, as soon as that Phoenix 2 capsule cranks up, within about a half-an-hour, he will be down with the 33 miners, the first human contact they have had from the surface in 69 days, Anderson.

We can also see coming up from that 20-inch -- 28-inch diameter rescue shaft, we can see smoke coming up. That's nothing to be worried about. That's humidity because of the temperature differential. It is very warm down in that mine shaft. It is very cold up here in the frigid Atacama Desert. That is just steam coming out of the ground.

We can see there the -- we're still looking at these pictures. It looks like Manuel Gonzalez (ph) got in that Phoenix capsule. It looks like he's just stepping out again for a while just to make sure things work. We can see on the ground there the -- the oxygen tanks -- again, vital to have this oxygen supply there for all the miners.

We understand it's going to be about 30 percent to 40 percent oxygen mix, that because of an enclosed, claustrophobic space. But the doctors on the surface don't want to run any chances. They don't want any of these miners to get dizzy or faint on the way up.

Why is that? Because they believe that they need the full cooperation of each miner as they come up. We know that capsule is equipped with a wide-angle camera, so that the rescuers can see how each miner is reacting. But the miner needs to be alert, aware and talking through this videoconferencing system, telling them how they're riding up, also explaining if they're feeling any panic symptoms.

That is the importance of that oxygen that has also been put on board there, so that the miners don't run the risk of fainting. And, once again, it looks like Manuel Gonzalez (ph) is still making some adjustments to the gear inside that rescue capsule.

COOPER: And, Karl...

PENHAUL: Again, some initial euphoria and clapping from the people here in Camp Hope when they saw him get on board, but, again, some more minutes of adjustments, Anderson.

COOPER: And -- and, Karl, the -- the miners have already been prepared. They have been on a liquid diet now, I believe, since Sunday. They have been taking aspirin as -- as a -- as a blood thinner. They're also wearing -- going to be wearing, not only sweaters and moisture-resistant clothing.

They -- I'm also told they have fresh underwear, fresh socks, and, most importantly, perhaps, compression socks and some sort of corset device in order to control blood flow to try to prevent them from passing out as they're coming up.

PENHAUL: Yes. Let me take you a little bit step by step.

That liquid diet, in fact, has been administered now for the last six hours, not since Sunday, but just over the last six hours. It's a diet of vitamins and protein supplements that have been recommended and designed by the space agency NASA. We know that the NASA team was on site here early on in this crisis to help give advice. That is because that will help the miners avoid nausea on the way up. It will help them keep alert as well. They didn't want to give them solid foods, just in case there was any rocking, in case there was untoward movement with that capsule.

You're right about the compression socks, a little bit like you would wear on airlines to avoid the risk of deep vein thrombosis and that kind of thing. Each miner will be wearing that.

We're also told each miner will wearing a -- a harness, a chest harness, with a little monitor on to monitor his vital signs, heart rate, pulse, blood pressure as well. That is the kind of detail that the doctors on the surface want to check and make sure everything is under control.

On the aspirins front, yes, absolutely right, again, to try and avoid the problems of possible blood clots and high-blood pressure as well. And for the last couple of days now, the miners have been taking those aspirins.

In terms of the clothing, one of the key pieces of clothing here, we're told they're going to be wearing sneakers. They need comfortable shoes. Until now, they had been wearing thin-soled rubber boots that had been sent down earlier on to replace the steel-capped safety boots that they had been wearing.

They will also be equipped with, I understand, green overalls, green overalls that are also waterproof, because there's a number -- there's an amount of underground water that is filtering through into this rescue shaft, and so the miners -- this is to avoid the miners getting damp.

COOPER: Right.

PENHAUL: Each of those overalls also will be embroidered with the miner's name, just so rescuers know exactly who is coming out...

COOPER: Right.

PENHAUL: ... and when, Anderson.

COOPER: Karl, stay with us

I also want to bring in Dennis O'Dell, director of occupational health and safety for the United Mine Workers of America.

Dennis, you have actually been in one of these capsules. What are you -- as -- as they're checking, what do you think -- what are they going through? What are they checking right now?

DENNIS O'DELL, SAFETY AND HEALTH DIRECTOR, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA: Well, right now, they're checking the cable. They're checking the cables to make sure that they're secure.

On the oxygen bottles, I saw where they were making some adjustments on that. It may have been too close to where he was standing or what have you. There's going to be -- he's going to have to make sure that he's comfortable, so that, when he goes underground, that, you know, everything is secure and tight.

So -- so, they're just making extra checks on that.

COOPER: Originally, we had been told that they were going to send down four -- there were some who had said five, but -- but Karl Penhaul reporting they were going to send down four rescuers and then start to bring the miners up.

Now it seems they're just sending down this one gentleman, and then send up the -- the first -- the first miner. Why do you think they have decided to go for -- not for the -- the -- the -- the weakest miners, but to send out at least two miners who seem relatively healthy to start off with?

O'DELL: Well, the reason that they're probably going to bring the two healthy miners out, the two individuals that they're talking about bringing out -- or one of them has collected a lot of information from the very beginning, so they are going to be able to translate or relay a lot of that information on to the rescuers.

They will have details about the conditions of some of the other miners, you know, who they think they should bring out next, who they think should -- could wait until the very end, some of the conditions that they faced underground.

They will be able to talk to them about not only some of the physical capabilities of the miners, but the mental capabilities as well.

(CROSSTALK)

O'DELL: Any time you go into a rescue and recovery like this, you always talk -- you know, you interview somebody who has been there firsthand, because you can gather a lot of valuable information that will help you during this rescue.

And that's why they -- they want this -- the -- the individual obviously is strong enough to come out, and he's strong-minded enough to remember the details to be able to help them have a rescue, a successful rescue.

COOPER: Let's just listen to the sound of -- of this as the first rescuer begins to get ready to descend.

Let's just listen. Let's hear what -- you can see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, OK. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): OK. Everybody -- everybody, move back. Everybody, move back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Good luck. Good luck, Manuel (ph). Make sure you have fastened the door. Fasten the door. OK. Imagine you're at the beach. Imagine you're at the beach.

Good luck, my brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Good luck. Good luck, Manuel (ph).

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: On the left side of your screen, you see folks in the nearby town, Copiapo, extremely excited, the beginning of the end of this long 68 journey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Manuel (ph), before midnight, I want -- I want him up here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING SPANISH)

COOPER: Dennis, as you watch this very brave rescuer descending, going to be descending some 2,000 feet in the ground, being watched there by the president of -- of Chile, who has been on the scene all this day, what goes through your mind?

Obviously, you know, when you -- when you -- at least for me, when I see this, you realize just how elemental all this is. We think we live in this high-tech age, but, I mean, this is a man in a pretty crude device just descending deep into the earth.

O'DELL: Yes.

You always have to remember that rescuers are just a grade above other people. You have got to take your hats off to these individuals that are willing to put their lives at risk to help rescue somebody else. I mean, his heart has to be going 100 miles an hour. My heart is going like -- I mean, it's beating like crazy just watching him go in the ground.

You know, we train for these kind of events. And -- and we try to prepare ourselves. You try to prepare yourself physically and mentally, but, when you actually get into a situation like this, your adrenaline is speeding. You know, your anticipation -- I'm sure he's anxious. He's excited. He's, you know, anticipating what to do as he goes down.

That's going to be a long, lonely trip for him to go down, until he gets to the bottom. All kind of thoughts are going to be going through his mind. No matter how well-trained you are, we're all humans.

But, like I say, rescuers are a step above. I mean, any time that somebody would put their life, you know, ahead of -- of rescuing somebody else, that they would be willing to sacrifice their own, it's just a certain breed of -- my hats are off to these guys.

COOPER: I'm glad we paused for that sound, because, to hear his -- his -- you know, one of his colleagues to tell him, you know, pretend you're at beach, obviously, this is certainly no day at the beach for -- for -- for any of the folks involved here.

O'DELL: No, no, definitely not a day at the beach.

But you have to try to occupy your mind and think about things like that. But I'm telling you, this is a -- this is an exciting moment for everybody. This is something that's never occurred before, and this is actually -- Anderson, if you think about it, this is history.

They have always wanted to do manned testing to find out how long people could stay in confined spaces. But we're going to be able to gather a lot of good information from this. And the good thing is that -- that these miners have lived through this ordeal, so that we may learn and help other miners in the future.

So, I -- you know, I think this is going to be a good thing for everybody in the end.

COOPER: On the right side of your screen, you see the president of Chile talking to some of the -- the miners, the -- the rescuers, the -- the mine personnel, on the left side of the screen, some of the family members of the miners who are at Camp Hope waiting, on this, the 68th day, Camp Hope, appropriately named tonight, because there is certainly just so much hope that this ordeal is nearly over, not just for the miners down below, but for their families who have been camped out all this time.

Joining me now is also Dr. Kimberly Manning of Emory University Medical School.

Dr. Manning, what -- what kind of condition -- what is the greatest concern about the miners' condition right now? I mean, we know there's obviously there's dangers about bringing them up. They're going to be wearing compression socks and corset devices to -- to regulate their blood flow, that we -- we know they have been on a liquid diet.

We know they have been under, you know, very strict supervision, and -- and being careful about what they eat, and trying to get exercise. What are your greatest concerns in the -- in the hours ahead?

DR. KIMBERLY MANNING, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY MEDICAL SCHOOL: Well, I think it's going to start off by just looking at what we call a primary survey, and that's airway, breathing and circulation. It's always where we start. And so they have already been equipped with oxygen masks. It is critically important, as we have heard over and over again, that we make every effort to keep these gentlemen alert on their way up, because, if someone was to pass out, this could really be disastrous.

Also, with the nutritional supplements that they have been given, we have been very -- they have been very careful about how much fluid they're getting, exactly what caloric supplements, how many salt supplements they have been given. That's all important, because we want to prevent things like nausea.

That could lead to aspiration, which could also be a problem. But really passing out, I think, would be my primary concern right now.

COOPER: And that's one of the reasons for the liquid diet. There was concerns about them actually getting nauseous on the way up, because this capsule is going to be rotating somewhat.

MANNING: Absolutely.

COOPER: It's not a straight shot up. It's going to be rotating. And they may just literally get nauseous and throw up, so the idea is not to have them have solid food that they could -- that they could throw up.

MANNING: Right.

And, literally, when someone vomits, if they aren't able to bend over or find a way to be able to clear the airway, what happens is that that vomitus or those particles can go into the lung. That can lead to something called aspiration pneumonia, which can be a very, very serious thing that we would see once they made it up.

Once they reach the surface, really, the focus is going to be making sure that everyone is breathing OK, but looking at the blood pressure in particular. We know that some of the gentlemen were pretty up in age, the oldest of which is 63. So, you will be really focusing on those individuals who have underlying medical problems to make certain, very certain, that the circulation is intact.

COOPER: It's interesting, as we watch this image -- and we're going to continue talking to Dr. Manning -- but it's interesting -- interesting. You can actually watch the cable. You get a sense of the speed at which the capsule is moving.

Unfortunately, we don't have control over that camera, so they just pushed in. But you get a sense of the speed of the capsule. We're also going to be watching the cable to see when it slows down and stops to get a sense of when the rescuer has actually reached the compartment that these 33 miners are -- are in, and, of course, when it starts to move in the other direction, and we understand that that first miner is in fact on his way up.

Dr. Manning, I understand you're also concerned about the health of the miners' kidneys. Why is that -- why that in particular?

MANNING: Well, a few interesting things.

One of the biggest issues was that, for the first 17 days, they literally had one to two ounces each of fluid. It's 85 to 90 degrees in the quarters where they are, so they really should be getting about four liters of fluid per day. So, we already know, by the time they were discovered and rescued -- or found, that they already had taken quite a hit.

And when an individual gets quite dehydrated, it puts quite a demand on the kidneys. Now, what compounds that is that they have been in such cramped quarters, about 500 square feet with 33 individuals, the muscles begin to atrophy.

And when muscles are underused, byproducts of the muscles called myoglobin, one in particular, tries to clear through the kidney. And one of the big side effects there is that this can lead to kidney failure. They tested half of the miners for myoglobin in the urine, and nearly half did have it.

COOPER: I want to talk, too, in the -- in the two hours ahead of our coverage, hour-and-a-half until the midnight hour, by which time we expect at least one miner to have been brought up -- that is the hope of the people on the ground -- about the effects of -- of lack of light on these men for these last 68 days.

MANNING: Mm-hmm.

COOPER: I mean, imagine living in complete blackness, with only the occasional light from -- from headlamps, especially in the initial weeks of this thing.

People from NASA came down. They tried to create sort of light and dark areas. We're going to talk about the importance of that.

But one person I have talked to described it as -- as, it's like having jet lag for -- for 68 days. It can -- lack of light can have that impact on your body, on your mental state. We're going to talk with Dr. Manning and others about that ahead.

We have a rescuer heading right now into the mine as we speak. You see the wheel moving. Still, he is going down. It's going to be a long journey, about 10 to 15 minutes, likely more, before he actually reaches the miners. Oh, I'm actually now being told we believe it may be about four minutes until he reaches the bottom.

We're going to take a quick break. We will be -- right after this. You won't miss a beat. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And these are the images we saw just a few moments ago, the first rescue worker, Manuel Gonzalez (ph), taking some oxygen before getting into the Phoenix capsule. That's his -- his colleagues wishing him well, wishing him good luck, the president of Chile wishing him that as well, and his colleagues saying, "Imagine you're at the beach," as they locked him into the capsule, placed him in the capsule, and began lowering him.

And, as soon as he began to be lowered into the ground...

(SINGING)

COOPER: That is a live picture right now in the nearby town of Copiapo, residents singing the Chilean national anthem. Let's listen in for just a moment.

(MUSIC)

COOPER: The people in that square vowed to stay there until the last miner is brought out. Let's watch as the miners and everyone joins in.

(MUSIC)

COOPER: And you see in the upper left hand, the capsule still being lowered down to meet the miners.

Karl Penhaul joins us live from the scene.

Karl, you were saying you may have gotten word it may be a matter of a few minutes before he actually reaches the miner?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: even less than a few minutes now, Anderson. That is why the people here have hope, were singing the national anthem. There was a countdown (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to show us how many feet that rescue capsule still had to go. And while they were in the middle of the national anthem, there was only 60 feet to go.

They have now taken that countdown clock off the screen from the national TV. That rescue capsule has to be dangling just a few feet from the mine top where the 33 miners are.

This will be their first contact with outside human life in 69 days, and that is why we see family members here, in prayer, waiting, and here one of the 33 miners.

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

He can see a smile on the face there, as that capsule was going into the hole, moments of tension, praying, stern looks. But for now he says we're happy, we're happy, we're very happy. That capsule is down there near the bottom.

When we see the wheel on that pulley-and-wheel system stop, that is when we will know that the rescue capsule, that the Phoenix 2 has reached the 33 miners and, in a short time, we could see the first of those 33 miners, Florencio Avalos, coming back to the surface, marking the end of their 69-day purgatory, Anderson. COOPER: I can only imagine what the miners themselves, after surviving this long, surviving for some 17 days before they even knew if anyone was looking for them, before they even knew if anyone would find them. And then to discover, to have that first drill break through after being down there for 17 days.

And now they're waiting for their first contact with a human being in some 68 days. It is an extraordinary moment as we watch that wheel, waiting for it to stop, being the indication that human contact has been made, and the long, long journey that these miners have been suffering through, that long journey, is about to enter its final phase.

Karl, at the point that the rescuer gets there, do we know how long before he loads the first miner in and begins to give instruction and exactly what to do with the communication devices and oxygen devices in the Phoenix capsule?

PENHAUL: In fact, remember earlier on we were talking about how the rescuers had been able to telescope all the timelines, and even this Phoenix capsule as it goes down now, it looks like it's going to make the journey from the surface down to the mine in around ten minutes.

That is twice as fast as rescue workers expected. They expected the Phoenix two, because it was falling under the weight of its own gravity, could take about half an hour to get down there.

We now can see from the countdown on the official government signal, that that Phoenix rescue capsule is down at the mine shaft with the 33 miners. There's a signal up there that shows it took 15 minutes to get down there. That is quicker than they expected. We expect that maybe it will take ten or 15 minutes to load the first miner aboard.

What we're not sure about is whether Manuel Gonzalez, the mine rescue expert that has just gone down there, we believe he has to take -- carry out a few assessments, a few checks of the miners first. He has to explain procedures to them. That could take a little time. That could take a little time.

But once one of those miners gets loaded on board, we know the journey from bottom back to the surface could take just ten minutes, Anderson, and that will surely be the ride of Florencio Avalos, the first miner out. That will be the ride of his life, Anderson.

COOPER: So it looks like the wheel is still going, so clearly, he's still -- he's not yet made contact.

PENHAUL: That is not clear to me right now. On the government TV signal, that is there, it clearly seems to show that the counter has stopped, that the counter has stopped at zero, i.e. that means that it is down at the 6,024 meter mark, just beyond 18 -- down to about 2,000 feet.

Yes, it does look like the cable is moving, and that could give it -- to give it a little bit of slack. We're going to know in the next few moments...

COOPER: There, it stopped. Look, you can see it.

PENHAUL: ... pretty fast moving now. You have to look at the faces of family members here. Yes, there it is, Anderson.

COOPER: Wow. Look at this. This is actually from inside the mine, a live image of the capsule entering the mine for the first time. Extraordinary. Extraordinary moment. If this does not give you chills, I'm not sure what will.

Clearly, the folks in Camp Hope -- there you see the emotion on the left side of the screen. This is a live picture from inside the mine. Manuel Gonzalez being about to be greeted by one of the miners.

The emotion of people on Camp Hope on the left side of your screen, they are watching the images you are seeing, and the nearby town of Copiapo, elation, as well. Tears of joy and relief.

Let's watch on the right side to get a tighter shot of that, if you can. Let's look at that full screen. Manuel Gonzalez, the first rescuer to go underground, being greeted by the 33 miners. He's gone from the cold night air to a temperature somewhere between 80 and 90 degrees, shaking hands, being hugged. You can see the smiles on the miners' faces. Incredible. Just incredible.

They had lowered -- they had lowered, obviously, video cameras and cables in order to be able to get images all throughout these 68 days. If, in case, miners needed psychological counseling, they had psychiatrists above ground and through iChat, video chat. They could make contact and talk.

Clearly, Manuel Gonzalez is going to explain to the miners the situation, what it's like being in the capsule, and then give them instruction on exactly what they have to do once they're in the capsule.

Karl, what is each of these miners -- they're going to have oxygen. They're going to have a video camera also, I understand, trained on their face in case they panic and people -- and also communication devices so they can be talked to while they're -- while they're ascending, correct?

PENHAUL: Absolutely. Strapped onto the door of that Phoenix rescue capsule is a wide-angle camera. And so that will give rescuers a very clear vision of the kind of experience that the miners are going through. And believe you me, if the optics on that camera inside the Phoenix 2 are as good as what we're seeing as has been put down into that mine, the rescuers will get a very good idea.

You know, we're up here on the surface saying, why is it taking a bit longer than expected? Why is it taking so long to get all the communications gear into place? And we can see why now. The Chilean government and the rescue workers really did want to make this picture perfect. They didn't let on that they had a live, fiber optic video feed down below. And there we saw that Phoenix capsule being lowered down from the surface. We then cut to the pictures below ground and see it coming down.

What an incredible moment, to think that Manuel Gonzalez is the first human being that these 33 miners have seen beyond themselves in these last 69 days. This was the first person that has come from the surface down to where they are in all that time.

And we can see him now standing amid these miners, explaining to them what the procedure is for getting aboard the Phoenix capsule. And again, look at miners there. We know some of them have lost weight. Some of them, according to family members, have lost up to 30 pounds.

But they look to be in good spirits. We know that they've had all sorts of high-tech gear, sportswear sent down to them, but now they've gone back to being miners. They're stripped down to the waist in the heat down there in the mine shaft, stripped down to the waist, ready for work with their helmets on, read to great Manuel Gonzalez.

And now it looks like he's going on some kind of a tour through the workshop area. Remember where the plan, where backhoes, where trucks would be prepared underground.

COOPER: Right.

PENHAUL: And above ground on the national government TV pictures, we can see Sebastian Pinera, the Chilean president, and his wife are watching everything that is going on. The miners, as well...

COOPER: You know, Karl, I think you can also see -- Karl, you can also see one of the miners getting ready, getting clothes on. A lot of the miners don't have shirts on, but you see one of the miners very clearly has the custom-made outfit that each miner is going to have as they ascend. I believe that's what we're seeing in the foreground of the screen, giving a kind of -- slapping hands with other folks. We don't have control over this camera, which is why it's kind of going back and forth.

But you see the miner very clearly there, who is miner dressed in -- in this water-resistant outfit that each of these miners will don before going into the -- into the capsule. So I'm assuming that this is the first miner who's going to be leaving. Florencio Avalos, or at the very least, one of the -- one of the first two, who's going to be leaving, because clearly he is already dressed and apparently ready to go.

Dennis O'Dell is also joining us. He's watching these images as we watch them.

Dennis, have you ever seen anything like this? I mean, we had heard we might have a live video image from down below when the capsule arrived, but we didn't know if we really would. It -- I mean, it takes your breath away. DENNIS O'DELL: I'll tell you, the thing that -- I mean, to tell the whole story is to look at the miners' faces, the smiles. That tells the whole story right there. Because all the hope that they had held on to has finally come to a reality this evening. I mean, just to look at those guys and the smiles and the hugs they gave each other, that's what it's all about. It just has -- if that doesn't touch anybody's heart, I just don't know what does. This is such a heartwarming thing to watch unfold.

COOPER: How -- in terms of the ascent, I mean, how concerned are you -- obviously, you know, they have done everything they can to try to shore up this -- let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was bad.

COOPER: Not exactly sure where this sound is coming from, but -- Dennis, it looks to me that one of the miners is dressed -- dressed to go. Is that what you can tell as well?

O'DELL: Yes, that's what it looks like t looks like one of them is putting on the coveralls they sent down for the rescue attempt to take place. It's almost like they were preparing him and getting him ready. I saw initially the rescuer that went down was giving a brief overview to everybody after, you know, the initial hugs and hellos and greetings and everything, and I think he was just telling everybody what he experienced on his way down and what they should experience on their way back up. So I think everybody is getting anxious at this point.

COOPER: How safe is this, how safe do you think this ascent is? Obviously it's not a straight shot. It's at an 80-degree angle. You know, they tried to shore up some of the upper parts of it with metal, with steel, it's -- but there's inherent risk involved.

O'DELL: There always is, Anderson, but I'd said earlier before, I think they've taken every precaution that they possibly thought they could take. With saying that, you know, there's always a risk any time that you are involved in a rescue and recovery where you're going through a different strata and you're going to be going in and out like they will through the next several hours. But I think they're going to take extra due care in watching that, and I think it's going to be a fairly safe operation.

COOPER: How -- I mean, how -- obviously the Chilean government thought the mining agency couldn't handle the rescue operation and brought in another group of folks. Is there much oversight of these mines?

O'DELL: You know, I'm not sure as far as Chile what the regulations are, if any, especially in the gold and copper mines. The United States has -- you know, we're regulated with our mining industry. Australia has good regulations. There's other mines. Like I said, it's a gold and copper mine. It's different than what we're used to, as far as coal here in the United States.

But one of the things that -- they have one way in and one way out. And hopefully, some of the things that they'll learn is that, while they're doing this type of mining, they need to make provisions for secondary means of escape in the event that something does happen. And maybe they'll learn that they need to do some extra precautionary measures as far as supporting the top and the ribs and the floor so that, you know, they don't have this type of collapse.

There's a lot of lessons to be learned here, as well, to move forward, to make these mines and other mines throughout this world safer for miners to work in.

COOPER: Chilean authorities had been criticized early on for not doing enough to oversee mines, oversee the safety of the workers in those mines but have received high marks for their response after this incident occurred for giving this high-level attention from very early on. This certainly has had the attention of the Chilean people and therefore, the politicians as well. You see the president of Chile all over the place tonight and throughout this evening.

Just remarkable images. You're watching history being made here. The first rescuer has reached the miners. One of the miners seems ready to go. We've got to take -- do we have to take a break here?

Got to take a very quick break. We'll come back and show you the miner as he heads -- heads for home. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: For those of you who were with us for the Sago Mine disaster several years ago, we hope we have a very different story to tell you tonight.

Remarkable, breathtaking images from just a moment ago, the Phoenix rescue capsule entering the mine where 33 men have been trapped for 68 days now. Their long nightmare, it seems, it seems -- it seems -- is nearly over.

That was images broadcast live. Rescuer, Manuel Gonzalez, moments ago entering -- the first human contact -- entering the mine, the first human contact that these miners have had. One of the minors already appears to be ready to go. Florencio Avalos is the man who has been selected to be the first to leave. In relatively well health. Well -- in good health, I should say.

He's been one of the videographers for many of the videos that we've been watching over the last 68 days. Looks like he's getting some instructions now from Manuel Gonzalez. Manuel Gonzalez, in the white helmet and sort of the orange-reddish outfit in the foreground with his back to camera right now. Let's listen in to what is being said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We need to be monitoring this to see if the signal will hold or not. I need order. I need order so you can keep the area clear. Once the capsule ascends, we need them -- we need them to clear the area.

COOPER: I believe these are instructions being radioed to -- to the miners underground. Trying to verify that. We're not sure who -- that's obviously a voice of the translator explaining what I believe those instructions are being radioed from people on the ground in order to tell the folks to kind of clear the area once the capsule is being sent up.

This computer screen is being watched by the president of Chile and also mine officials, who are in charge of this operation. So they are seeing this as you are seeing this in real time.

We're also -- it appears as if Florencio Avalos is already inside that capsule. I think we're hearing actual sound from the miners themselves from inside there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

COOPER: They're talking to Manuel Gonzalez. The people on the ground are talking to Manuel Gonzalez, the rescuer, who is inside the mine. So you're hearing radio traffic between the two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Manuel needs to give the OK so we can proceed.

COOPER: So the folks on the ground are waiting for Manuel Gonzalez, the rescuer, to give the OK, so that Florencio Avalos can be the first man to leave this mine.

So you're hearing sound from both inside the mine, as well as the voice of the mine officials, watching this on their computer, and that's where these images are being taken from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They're closing the pod.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They're closing the pod. I'm -- giving the final touches, the final indications.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Please tell Manuel when he's ready, to talk to me -- to talk to me on the phone. Here he comes. I need everybody to move from in front of the camera.

Manuel, how are we doing? Excellent. Perfect. There's a small box on his feet. He cannot hold it in his hands. Is the door checked? Everything's -- everything's ready. Everything's ready. Perfect. There's a small, little box on his feet so you can monitor him.

I will give the ascent orders. Correct. Ascent orders given. Please clear the camera. OK. We will begin the ascent.

Please clear the camera. Please clear the camera. Please clear the camera. We need to -- we need to be able to see. He's coming out. It's five to 12.

Did you see that? Did you see that at the end? What happened?

COOPER: Extraordinary moment. You're watching live television, Chilean authorities not only conducting a rescue operation, but producing a videotaped rescue operation with cameras. They are in control. The Chilean authorities are in control of the cameras. We are not. They have this whole thing wired.

The reaction in nearby town of Copiapo, clearly excited, watching every single moment of this, as we are, and folks are around the world. A lot of tears, a lot of excitement. They're not sure how long it's going to take.

Gary Tuchman is at the scene.

Gary, Karl had said that it took half the time they thought, it took about ten minutes for the rescuer, Manuel Gonzalez, to go down. Should it only take about ten minutes for Florencio Avalos to be the first man brought up?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we've been told this will take about 15 to 17 minutes for him to be brought up, but the wheel seems to be moving quicker than the wheel when they went down to get the miners.

What's amazing, Anderson, is this. This is the ultimate live shot. I've got to tell you. This reminds me of when I was 8 years old watching Neil Armstrong step on the moon for the first time. The kind of awe that we have here.

The irony is that we are the closest civilians to the rescue site right now, about 175. My colleagues from 39 countries who are standing here right now. But we see less than you and the viewers do, because we don't have TV monitors. So we are just staring at this wheel. And when the wheel started turning the other way, when the rescue went down, people started cheering.

Now when the wheel started turning this way, people started cheering again. It's a long walk to monitors to watch this, and a lot of the journalists here are wanting to see this, because it's extraordinary television. We just can't wait for this first man to get out about 13 minutes from now, we estimate.

COOPER: And Dennis O'Dell joining us as well. Dennis, they are monitoring now the man we believe to be Florencio Avalos, who is, we were told, the man to be first selected. He was clearly ready to go. He was clearly dressed, if in fact it was Mr. Avalos.

Explain -- you've been in one of these capsules. Explain what it's like as you are ascending through the ground.

O'DELL: You feel helpless. Like I say, you're standing inside a confined space where you can't really move your arms above your head or anything. You have to keep them down at your side. You can't bend over, and you're at the real mercy of the hoist operator. So you know, you have a lot of time where you're by yourself, and you have to think positive. You have to try to keep your mind occupied, not think of anything on the bad side, but try to keep on the positive side.

So this is going to be a long, lonely trip, but I'm sure his heart's going 100 miles an hour. He's probably ecstatic. He can't wait to be reunited with his family and friends. There's just probably all kind of emotions that's going through him right now as he goes from -- on this trip.

COOPER: No doubt. Dr. Kim Manning from Emery University is also joining us. Dr. Manning, as this man is being brought up, he's moving from one temperature zone, about 80 to 90 degrees, to what is clearly very cold on the surface. What kind of difficulties does that -- does that entail? Obviously, he's been given a sweater. He's been given clothing to deal with it, and water-resistant clothing, because there is water in the shaft.

DR. KIM MANNING, EMERY UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. Well, they've prepared adequately. And really, the biggest issues that we would face would be if this individual was not prepared with the proper clothing and gear, and he has been.

When someone goes from one extreme temperature to very, very cold temperatures, certainly cold, injury and hypothermia can be a very serious medical issue. But in this instance, I don't think that's something we'd really have to worry about. They've really taken adequate precautions.

COOPER: And he's clearly been selected because he is supposed to be in good shape. You just saw a moment ago, family members of Florencio Avalos being brought to the site. Three family members, we're told, of each of these miners will be allowed to go and actually greet them and spend some time with them. And then each of these miners is going to be brought for medical treatment, for medical observation.