Chile mine rescue may come early: president

The 33 miners trapped deep in a Chilean mine could be back on the surface by mid-October, the country's president says.
Luis Avalo, left, and Andrea Gonzalez, relatives of trapped miners Florencio Avalo and Renan Avalo, rest at the camp where relatives wait for news outside the mine in Copiapo, Chile, on Saturday. ((Roberto Candia/Associated Press))

The 33 miners trapped deep in a Chilean mine could be back on the surface by mid-October, the country's president says.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said Monday that he hopes the miners will be free before he leaves for a trip to Europe, which is scheduled for Oct. 15.

TIMELINE: Mine rescue

  • Aug. 5: Main tunnel at San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, collapses, leaving miners trapped.

  • Aug 22: Miners make contact with the surface for the first time, confirm they are alive. 

  • Aug. 26: The miners are told it could be months before they are rescued.

  • Sept. 17: A rescue hole reaches the mine  area near the chamber where the men took refuge, some 700 metres beneath the surface, several rescue plans in operation.

  • Oct. 4: The Chilean president says the rescue operation could be completed by mid-October.

"We are very close to rescuing them, and I hope to be able to rescue them before leaving for Europe," he told a group of Chilean radio broadcasters Monday. "We are trying to adjust the two schedules."

However, rescue chief Andre Sougarret told the BBC he had no new information suggesting the rescue effort would be complete by the middle of the month.

The miners have been trapped since Aug. 5, when a landslide at the gold and copper mine in northern Chile caused a tunnel to collapse and left the workers trapped hundreds of metres underground.

Rescue workers learned the miners were alive more than two weeks later, when a probe sent deep into the San Jose mine came back with a note saying: "All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."   

Pinera's government assembled a team to support the trapped miners while three drilling operations pounded escape shafts through the rock — but the miners were warned it could take until Christmas to save them.

The drilling has gone well enough to move up the date since then, but rescue leaders have been cautious. Only last week, crews estimated a late-October rescue.    

Jorge Garreton, a freelance reporter based in Santiago, told CBC News that the miners have fitness regimes and are training to stay slim so they can fit in the narrow rescue tunnel.

The miners have also been sending keepsakes up in the same capsules that carry food, clean clothes, medicine and other supplies down through a narrow borehole to their underground cavern.

Meanwhile, hundreds of employees who worked for the company that owns the San Jose mine held a protest in Copiaopo on Monday to demand unpaid wages owed to them, the Santiago Times reported.

The mining company is facing several legal cases, including lawsuits launched by the families of the trapped miners and an ongoing case related to a workplace injury.

With files from The Associated Press