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Chile Minister: Rescue of 33 Trapped Miners to Begin Wednesday

Chile's Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne, left, holds up a bottle of champagne as he speaks to unidentified members of the rescue team after the T-130 drill reached the 33 trapped miners at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile Saturday Oct. 9, 2010.

Chile's mining minister says the rescue of 33 miners who have been trapped underground for more than two months will likely begin on Wednesday.

Minister Laurence Golborne said Saturday that rescue teams must first reinforce a section of an escape shaft that was finally completed on Saturday. After the shaft was finished, engineers lowered a video camera inside and decided to encase a 96-meter section of it with steel pipes. The miners will be lifted to safety one-by-one in an escape capsule.

Chilean rescue crews have completed drilling a shaft they plan to use to pull out 33 miners trapped underground since August 5. Officials are now preparing a rescue hatch to lower into the shaft.

Heavy drilling equipment punched through the final meters of rock at the gold and copper mine in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. Workers and relatives of the miners cheered and waved Chilean flags at a tent camp that has formed above the mine, since the miners were trapped two months ago.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne announced the completion of the 625-meter shaft early Saturday.

Golborne said drilling teams proceeded carefully at the end, while the trapped miners sent radio reports on the drill's position. He said it was curious that the drilling operation took 33 days as part of an effort to rescue 33 trapped miners.

Golborne said a rescue hatch may begin operating as early as Tuesday to carry the miners one-by-one to the surface. Officials have yet to decide whether to reinforce the shaft with metal tubing, which could delay the rescue effort a few days.

Chilean navy engineers and mining experts helped build the rescue capsule, known as the Phoenix. The capsule is about half-a-meter wide and includes an oxygen supply and a phone to communicate with rescue crews on the surface.

Some of the miners appear to have skin infections and have complained of dental problems. Officials say once the miners are rescued they will be carried by helicopter to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.

The 65-day ordeal is the longest time that workers trapped in a mining accident have survived underground.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has vowed a complete investigation into the accident that caused a cave-in trapping the 33 men in a deep section of the mine.