Engineers in Chile are continuing to drill an escape route to save 33 miners who have been trapped more than 600 meters underground in a gold and copper mine since a cave-in early this month.
Officials say the Australian-made drilling machine (known as a Strata 950), will excavate at a rate of about six meters per day. The drill will first create a narrow pilot hole, then a larger drill bit will be used to make the hole wide enough for a rescue capsule that will pull the miners to the surface.
The drilling process, which began Monday, will send up to 4,000 tons of rock and debris into the mine shaft. Officials say the miners will have to help in their rescue by clearing the rock as it falls. The work is taking place as relatives of the men camp out at the entrance to the mine.
Chile's mining minister, Laurence Golborne, has cautioned that the rescue could take up to four months, despite estimates by some engineers that the evacuations could occur in about half that time.
Chile has also asked the U.S. space agency for help. A top NASA official says the agency will assist Chile with ways to keep the men healthy while they are confined.
The men became trapped when part of the mine collapsed August 5. Rescuers first made contact with them more than one week ago. Officials say some of the men have begun showing signs of depression and that some have developed fungal infections and body sores from the hot conditions underground.
The mine has a history of accidents and was shut down in recent years for safety reasons before being reopened.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.