Following a successful test of the rescue capsule, lifting of the 33 miners to the surface is expected to start at midnight tonight or perhaps even sooner. They have been trapped at the San José mine following a cave-in since August 5.
Engineers announced they had completed installation of metal casing after deciding to line the first 55 meters (180 feet) of the shaft, and had carried out preliminary tests of the rescue capsule in the shaft.
“We lowered the capsule Phoenix 1 into the shaft to a depth of 610m (2,000ft) almost to within reach of the men,” announced Laurence Golborne, the minister of mining. “We are extremely happy with the way it performed and are now installing the necessary equipment to ensure it is safe to begin the rescue.”
He said all would be in place at midnight (4am BST, Wednesday) to start the rescue process when four men – two mining experts and two naval medics – would be lowered into the mine to oversee the raising of the men to the surface.
The miners were praised for their “selfless attitude” after squabbling over who would be the last to emerge from the underground chamber where they have been trapped since the mine collapsed on August 5.
While it is not yet clear who will be among the first to make the journey, the final three miners to be brought up through the shaft have been named to put end to arguments, it was reported.
“The selfless attitude of the men shows a really commendable spirit, of solidarity and commitment to their friends”, Jaime Manalich, Chile’s health minister said. “They were fighting with us because everyone wanted to be at the end of the line, not the beginning.”
Authorities announced they had drawn up a provisional list of the order the men would be raised to the surface on “D-Day” but the final decision would be made by naval medics sent down to oversee the rescue.
Four “experienced and healthy men” will be chosen first followed by a group of ten identified as “vulnerable” because of medical problems, age or anxiety.
Luis Urzua, 54, the shift supervisor whose disciplined leadership was credited with keeping the men alive on an emergency food supply during their first 17 days without contact from the outside world will be the final man to make the journey.
“It’s the concept of the captain being the last to abandon ship,” confirmed one of the rescue team on Monday.
The second to last man to be raised in the narrow metal capsule will be Ariel Ticona, the 27-year-old miner whose wife is waiting to introduce him the daughter she gave birth to in September.
And the third will be Pedro Cortez, 26, whose cheerful persona has led him to be dubbed the “joker” of the group.
The miners have become experts on the communication system between the underground chamber and rescuers on the surface and their contribution throughout the rescue process is considered key.
The 33-men, who have survived more than twice as long as any other known survivor of a mining incident, have begun the final countdown after more than two months trapped below the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
They have been undergoing tests to assess their health ahead of the imminent rescue. Officials are concerned about acute hypertension in some of the miners as well as sudden drops in blood pressure in others because of the speed of the ascent to the surface.
The men have been taking aspirin since Sunday night to prevent blood clots and will put on compression socks and a special girdle before entering the narrow pod.
They will be wearing a biometric belt that monitors heart rate, body temperature and will be clothed in a specially designed suit to maintain their body temperature.
They will also wear sweaters to combat a shift in temperature from about 90F (32C) underground to near freezing if the emerge at night.
All the miners have been put on a special high calorie diet designed by NASA to prepare them for the harrowing 20-minute ride through the 2,051ft (625m) shaft to the world above.
The liquid food enriched with potassium and magnesium should prevent nausea as the capsule spins 350 degrees some 10 to 12 times through the 28-inch diameter shaft at a speed of up to one metre per second.
The biggest worry is that the men may suffer panic attacks, said Mr Manalich.
“This is the first time in many weeks that the miners are going to be completely alone,” he said. “They have to be psychologically mature and be able to handle a quick training on how to use the harness and oxygen mask in the Phoenix capsule.”
Rescuers will communicate with the men throughout the journey to the surface. All the men should be out within 16 hours of the start of the rescue operation if all goes smoothly. [via Digital Journal]