Rescue workers in Chile are making what are hoped to be the final test runs of a capsule to rescue 33 miners who have been trapped underground for more than two months.
Workers lowered the empty capsule through a shaft drilled into the collapsed copper mine and then raised it back to the surface Tuesday night to check the equipment.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said the next step in the rescue process would be to send a rescue worker into the shaft to check the condition of the mine. Another rescue worker will then be sent into the mine to assist the miners.
The rescue is expected to last up to two days as the men are pulled out one-by-one.
Since Monday, rescue crews have performed a series of tests with the rescue hatch, known as the Phoenix, that will lift the miners one-by-one to the surface. Officials said they found no problems as the Phoenix traveled through a 622-meter shaft that is just wide enough to carry a person.
Click on the graphic:
MINER RESCUE FACTS
How they'll be removed
- At least 3 mining experts to be lowered down into mine
- 10-15 minutes for capsule to reach surface
- 25-30 minutes for empty capsule to descend
- Each miner will wear helmet with communicator, oxygen mask, dark glasses and other equipment
- The rescue capsule is about 4.5 meters-long and about 55 cm in diameter; it contains an oxygen supply and guide wheels on top and bottom sections
Under the government's rescue plan, the Phoenix will first carry a mining expert into the mine to help the trapped men board the rescue device. At least three other rescuers are expected to descend into the mine, in part to evaluate health conditions and assist those who are weak or ill.
Health Minister Jaime Mañalich says the miners appear to be very calm and in good spirits in the final hours before the rescue operation begins. He said the health condition of each miner will play a role in when they are brought to the surface.
Mañalich said the first to ascend will be the healthiest miners, who are most capable of operating the Phoenix. Next will come a group of 10 miners who are in delicate health.
Health officials say several miners are believed to have skin and lung infections, and a few are suffering from diabetes.
Mañalich said the miners will be rushed to a nearby hospital, where they will remain for at least two days. He said doctors will consider the status of each miner, and may allow them to return home after two days to reunite with family and friends.