Chilean President Sebastian Pinera visited a copper and gold mine in northern Chile on Sunday where 33 men are trapped more than half-a-kilometer underground. Efforts to dig a third escape tunnel have begun in one of the most challenging mine rescues in history as rescuers race to reach the miners who have been trapped for six weeks.
President Pinera flew in by helicopter to meet with families of the miners and to hold a news conference as rescuers added a third and larger oil rig drill to rescue efforts. "We have done our best to rescue them alive and we will succeed in this tremendous effort. When, we don't know. But it will be sooner than what you expect," he said.
After thanking rescue workers, Mr. Pinera signed the oil platform drill for good luck.
The third and latest drill to be added to the rescue effort is 45 meters tall and can pound through as much as 40 meters of rock per day.
Unlike the other two drills, which first must bore narrow holes and gradually expand their width, the new drill can carve a hole 71 centimeters in diameter -- wide enough to pass a man through.
But the drill's tremendous power increases the risk of an underground collapse. Therefore, engineers are aiming at a point in the mine below where the men are trapped.
Chile's navy has designed a bullet-shaped rescue capsule to carry the men to the surface, one at a time, after the hole is dug.
Authorities had warned that the rescue could take until Christmas. Chilean officials now estimate the rescue could come in November, if not earlier.
The 33 miners were trapped during a cave in on August 5th. But it was not until 17 days later that they were discovered alive. Rescuers have been sending food, medicine and letters through a small pipe to the miners, some 700 meters below the surface.
They have also been using video cameras to keep in touch with the rest of the world. On Sunday, Lilianeth Gomez, the daughter of trapped miner Mario Gomez, watched the latest video with others. Gomez says she was surprised that the men are in good spirits.
The U.S. space agency NASA is advising the Chilean government on ways to keep the men mentally and physically fit during the prolonged rescue effort.