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Trapped miners found alive after 17 days August 23, 2010

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera says 33 miners are alive and contact has been established with them 17 days after a structural collapse trapped them below ground.

"All 33 of us are well inside the shelter," Pinera said on Sunday, waving a message scribbled in red pencil that the trapped miners sent to rescuers on the surface through a shaft drilled 700 metres below the ground.

"This came out of the ground. It's a message from our miners telling us they are alive, that they are together," Pinera told reporters outside the mine, 800km north of Santiago.

The miners have been trapped since August 5 in the San Jose gold and copper mine near the northern city of Copiapo. Until Sunday there had been no word from them, and hopes for their survival were fading.

However, the chief engineer in charge of the rescue operation, Andres Sougarret, said it would take at least four months to reach them.

"I thank the miners for their bravery, for their courage in holding out more than two weeks in the depths of the mountain," Pinera said.

"Now we must keep working. We have to enclose the shaft so we can send them water, food, lighting and communication equipment.

"But the most important thing is already there: moral support. The miners know we're striving to rescue them. They know it's a matter of days when they'll be rescued," he added.

Despite Pinera's optimistic scenario, Sougarret warned that extracting the trapped miners from their deep hollow will take time and that a more powerful digging machine is needed to drill a shaft to the shelter where the miners are confined.

"A shaft 66 centimetres in diameter (will take) at least 120 days to reach the miners," the engineer said.

AFP

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That is amazing... I sure hope they can successfully get them provisions , and I hope it does not take 4 months to reach them... And I hope they get all the help they need from foreign sources with bigger more powerful equipment to save those that are truly against the odds.

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Impossible to imagine what it's like in the dark of the darkest....stale air...no food..

33 other people depending on each other for support and now another four months...takes

a special kind of person to do that kind of work....

When me and El Dorado were in the mine here in Brazil it didn't look well supported at

all to me...a lot of water and it was sure hot...guess we were deeper than I thought!!!

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Rescue workers in Chile say they have sent the first supplies of water and food to 33 miners who have been trapped underground for 17 days.

Capsules containing the supplies were sent down a tube, which is the miners' only lifeline.

Rescuers made contact with the miners on Sunday after lowering a probe some 700m (2,300ft) beneath the surface.

The miners have not been told it may take up to four months to get them out, the head of the rescue operation said.

Andres Sougarret said it could take that long to drill a new shaft wide enough to pull the men to safety.

A specialised drill is on its way to the San Jose copper and gold mine, near the city of Copiapo, for the task.

If more specialised equipment was sent from outside Chile, the operation would still take at least two months, mining minister Laurence Golborne said.

Engineers are also trying to open lines of communication to talk to the men.

'Free of anguish'

People across Chile celebrated on Sunday night, waving flags and sounding the horns of their cars, when news emerged that the trapped miners had been contacted.

The announcement that they were all still alive was made at the mine on Sunday by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

The head of the rescue operation said engineers would drill two more shafts

Surrounded by relatives of the miners, Mr Pinera held up a note from the miners saying: "All 33 of us are fine in the shelter."

Video footage was later broadcast of the men waving at a camera inserted into their refuge though a 15cm (6-inch) borehole.

"Many of them approached the camera and put their faces right up against it, like children, and we could see happiness and hope in their eyes," Mr Pinera said.

The miners have been trapped since 5 August, when the main access tunnel collapsed. They are thought to be located 4.5 miles (7km) inside the mine, in a 50 sq m shelter that contains two long wooden benches.

"They need to understand what we know up here at the surface, that it will take many weeks for them to reach the light”

End Quote Jaime Manalich Chilean Health Minister

However, some experts and workers familiar with the mine said the trapped men had about 1.8km (1.1 miles) of space to move around in, AFP news agency reported.

Tanks of water inside, along with water from drilling machines and ventilation shafts helped the men to survive, but they had very limited food supplies.

"The wait is very different now," Elias Barros, whose brother is among those trapped, told the Reuters news agency. "It is a wait free of anguish. This isn't over, but we are much more hopeful it will end happily."

'Psychological situation'

Engineers worked through Sunday night to reinforce the borehole by coating it with a metallic gel to decrease the risk of further rock falls and make it easier to send material down in blue plastic capsules nicknamed "palomas", or doves.

The priority was to get capsules containing water and food in the form of high-energy glucose gel to the miners, as well as a medicine to reduce the acidity in their stomachs. Questionnaires to determine their condition were also sent.

Small microphones will later be lowered on wires to allow the miners to speak with their families. The communications equipment is expected to begin working within hours and officials are working out a schedule.

A team of doctors and psychiatrists have meanwhile arrived at the mine to help monitor their physical and mental condition during the long wait.

"We need to urgently establish what psychological situation they are in. They need to understand what we know up here at the surface, that it will take many weeks for them to reach the light," Health Minister Jaime Manalich said.

"There has to be leadership established, and to support them and prepare them for what's coming, which is no small thing," he added.

Relatives writing letters to the men have been told to keep them optimistic, Mr Sougarret said.

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