Chile seeks to speed up rescue of trapped miners

Chile was looking at ways on Saturday to speed up the rescue of 33 miners trapped deep underground for 23 days who officials have said might have to wait three to four months to see the light of day.

Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said rescuers were considering other options, including digging a second escape shaft to rescue the miners, who survived over two weeks on mouthfuls of tinned tuna, cookies and milk.

“Obviously we are looking into other options and we will welcome any option that speeds up the rescue,” Golborne told reporters at the mine in the rugged mountains of the Atacama desert near the city of Copiapo.

Officials plan on Sunday to start digging a shaft about 66cm in diameter that would take three months to reach the trapped miners. They would be lifted up one by one with a pulley.

Rescuers said on Saturday they were considering drilling a second shaft closer to the tunnel where the miners are located that would take about 60 days to reach them.

“We are very happy. Any possibility of bringing them out sooner is great news,” said Cristina Nunez (26) whose husband, Claudio, is trapped underground.

The miners were found alive last Sunday after they tied a note to a drill looking for them 700 metres underground, triggering celebrations across Chile and focusing world attention on what would be the toughest mining rescue ever attempted.

In a video released this week, bearded miners, some of them noticeably thin, explained how they organised themselves to survive in a tiny refuge in the bowels of the mountain.

They said they had areas designated to sleep and play dominoes as well as a space for water and items like toothpaste and deodorant.

Government officials are worried five of the men have started to show signs of depression after they did not appear in a video filmed by the miners.

The government is bringing in Nasa experts for tips on how to help the miners cope with lengthy confinement.

Rescuers have started to lower card games, miniature video projectors and MP3 players to battle boredom inside the hot and humid tunnel.

The San Jose mine accident has put the spotlight on safety conditions in the world’s top copper producer where authorities have closed at least 30 small mines since the cave-in on August 5.

The government has also promised changes to safety regulation, although stricter controls and closures of small mines are unlikely to dent copper output significantly.
- Reuters

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