There is some promising news for the 33 miners trapped underground in Chile, with government officials now saying they could be freed by mid-November.
The announcement was made as a third rescue operation began over the weekend. The news came as families of the miners marked one month since the men became trapped in the San Jose mine under the Atacama Desert, 700 kilometres north of Santiago on Aug. 5. Government officials had originally said that Christmas was the earliest the miners would be brought up.
Freelance reporter Jorge Garreton spoke to CBC News Monday from Santiago Chile.
The plan is to bring a third drilling machine — an oil-drilling machine currently located about 1,000 kilometres from the mine — which will require a football-sized field to set up a platform before drilling can commence. Given the complicated set-up, it would be about mid-September before this plan could start, said Garreton.
Chile's Mining Minister Laurence Golborne, who is supervising the entire operation has mentioned that two potential rescue dates are somewhere around mid-November or mid-December depending on which machine of the three drilling machines reaches the miners first. One machine that began drilling Monday to reach an escape shaft about 700 metres underground has so far dug down 67 metres. No details were available on the progress of a third machine that started digging Sunday after 17 hours of operation.
Meanwhile, despite receiving food, medicine and water, frustration is mounting among the trapped men and their families.
Controversy has arisen over letters being sent down to the miners in a special capsule. The lead psychologist on the rescue team initially said it was okay to send down 33 letters, one for each miner. But that practice is under review because the miners are getting 80 to 90 letters a day, which are taking up space in the capsule that could be used for food and other essential items. Officials are also reading the letters before they are sent down because news organizations are allegedly sending down questions on those letters.
Then family members complained after a video conference with the miners Saturday that it lasted only one minute. After their protests, the video conference was expanded to five minutes on Sunday.
Yet another controversy revolves around Chile's national holiday on Sept. 18, celebrating the country's bicentennial. Chile's Health Minister Jaime Manalich wants to send down pastries and wine to the miners on that day, but the lead psychologist is vetoing the idea.
He said the mine is a dry area and he fears the wine may be consumed by some miners who would become intoxicated, while others don't drink, sparking problems between the two groups.