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A relative of one of the 33 miners trapped lights a candle during a vigil outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo last night. Natacha Pisarenko/AP

Rescue teams hope to rescue Chilean miners tomorrow

A giant diamond-tipped drill is now just 40m away from the trapped men – but there’s new safety concerns.

THE RESCUE TEAM drilling to free the 33 miners trapped in an underground copper mine in Chile hope to be able to begin evacuating the men as early as tomorrow – but there is a chance that the rescue could yet be delayed.

Although one of the three enormous diamond-tipped drills has dug 585m into the surface of the ground – just 40m away from the chamber in which the 33 men have been trapped since August 5 – there is now a significant fear over whether breaching the ceiling of the chamber could cause another breakdown.

Chile’s health minister has explained that once the escape shaft has been completed, it will be lined with a metal tubing to try and ensure the shaft does not become constricted again.

Depending on the thickness of the steel piping used, however, the tubes could knock other rocks loose – or potentially clog the hole entirely. Should the pipe snap entirely, the rescue could be delayed for weeks more.

The shaft will be examined with a video camera to see how thick the escape shaft will need to be before the men can be released. Once the ad hoc elevator is completed, doctors and mining rescue experts will be lowered into the cave to examine the miners’ health.

The 33 men – who today spend their 64th day trapped underground – will then be loaded into the elevator, one by one, for the 15-minute journey back to the surface and to daylight – and to a hospital 15 minutes away by air for physical examination.

In the meantime, the miners’ input has been sought into a list deciding who should be first to the surface; those in poorer physical or psychological health will be prioritised for escape.