SAN JOSE MINE, Chile (AFP) - – Engineers Saturday finally broke through to the 33 miners trapped deep in a Chilean mine for more than two months, completing a shaft that will be used to bring them to safety within days.
The drill crew announced the breakthrough by blasting an air horn, then jumped and embraced each other in joy. They were joined by the hundreds of relatives of the miners staying next to the mine at Camp Hope, who erupted in cheers and vivas, blasted sirens and exchanged embraces.
The miners could be brought up in a custom-built capsule through the 622 meter (2,040 foot) deep shaft as early as Tuesday, officials said, depending on an engineering assessment on the stability of the shaft.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said, however, there was still much work to be done and "precautions to take."
He said the miners "are very relaxed, more relaxed than the press."
"They are doing very well, they are very pleased," their doctor, Jean Romagnoli, told AFP. "They are in very good physical shape and in good spirits, which always helps."
Relatives on the surface were giddy, laughing then breaking down in tears.
"This is overwhelming -- I can only imagine what my brother must be feeling down there," Gaston Henriquez, the brother of one of the miners, told AFP as he choked on tears.
"We are very happy, because for the past two months we have suffered enormously. We'll now wait for them to emerge so we can hug them and bring them home," said Wilson Avalos, who has two brothers in the mine.
"They are there -- they are almost out. It is too emotional," Nelly Burgueno, the mother of trapped miner Victor Zamora, told AFP. Zamora's young wife, meanwhile, could not stop crying.
Scene: Horns and bells set off celebration
The drill reached a chamber where miners were waiting at 8:05 am (1205 GMT), Goldborne said.
The miners have been trapped deep underground in the northern Chile copper and gold mine since August 5, surviving longer than anyone has before under similar circumstances.
Background: Experts plot next steps of mine rescue
Several enthusiastic people in Camp Hope ran up a hill near the mine and raised 32 Chilean flags and a Bolivian flag, representing the nationalities of the trapped miners.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, acting on an invitation from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, said Saturday that he plans to be at the mine when his compatriot, miner Carlos Mamani, is rescued.
Engineers said they drilled through the last four meters (yards) of rock with special care to avoid tunnel collapses.
Golborne said it will take at least six hours for crews to take all the drilling equipment out of the bore hole.
Engineers will then lower cameras to analyze the stability of the shaft, and decide if all or part of the shaft walls should be reinforced by inserting giant tubes.
A senior engineer also said that, in what could be a risky operation, the miners would have to set off explosives to enlarge the chamber to make room for the four meter (12-foot) long rescue capsule.
Journalists and camera crews from around the world have converged on the mine, hoping to capture the first images of the miners emerging. More than 1,000 reporters were expected by the weekend.
"God be willing, in a few days the whole country will be weeping with joy... when we see these miners emerge from the depths of the mountain to embrace their wives, children, mothers and fathers," said President Sebastian Pinera.
For days after part of the mine collapsed and trapped the miners, engineers were convinced that they had all died.
Then after two weeks of silence came an extraordinary note, penned in capital letters and written with red ink, that gave Chile the miraculous news that the miners were still alive.
"All 33 of us are well inside the shelter," said the note written by the oldest miner, 63-year-old Mario Gomez, and attached to a drill bit which breached their shelter on August 22.
A costly million-dollar rescue operation swung into place, including engineers and mining experts but also medics and psychiatrists whose job was to help the men cope with their enforced confinement.
Cameras lowered through small bore holes revealed pictures of the men, lit mainly by the lamps on their hard-hats, grimy and dusty and often bare-chested because of the stifling heat.
Most of the men are between the ages of 40 and 63, but eight are in their twenties, and 19-year-old Jimmy Sandez has not even graduated from high school.
Saturday marked the 66th day of their confinement.
Chronology: Chile mine disaster
Reposted From AFP