Hopes are high in Chile that the ordeal of 33 trapped gold miners will end within days. Seth Doane reports from the San Jose Mine in Chile.
A breakthrough brought cheers and a collective sigh of relief this weekend. Early Saturday morning engineers drilling one of three rescue tunnels broke through to the 33 trapped men.
It sparked celebrations as relatives received the best news since they'd learned the miners were alive back in August.
"I'm so happy. I can't contain my heart," Maria Segovio, whose brother is trapped underground, said. We first met her last week at a camp she set up along the main road to the mine. She came here 67 days ago, as soon as she learned about the collapse. She's been keeping vigil ever since.
"There's still work to be done, but the hard part is over," she said.
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The rescue operation is one of the most complex ever attempted. Jeff Hart works for the drilling company Layne Christensen.
"I would say it is probably the most difficult hole we've ever drilled," Hart said. "The formation, the type of drilling, the angle of the hole."
Hart, an American from Colorado, was in charge of the so-called Plan B drill, and was steering it when it broke through.
"We were holding our breath. We've been up for days to make sure to get this done," Hart said.
Engineers then sent a camera down the shaft and determined late last night they'll need to line about 300 feet of the tunnel with a protective casing. That process should take about a day and a half, all to prepare the tunnel shaft for the rescue capsule, dubbed the Phoenix. It should begin hoisting miners to the surface on Wednesday.
Clinton Cragg was part of the team that went to Chile from NASA. He advised the Chilean navy on the design of the capsule.
"They're going to have a communications network so they can talk to the miner on his way up," Cragg said, describing the rescue operation. "They'll have lighting inside the cage for the miner so he has situation awareness. Besides the oxygen, they have a protective cover on top for any type of falling rocks if that becomes an issue."
But before any miners come out, a doctor and a rescue expert will go in. Miners will leave in a pre-arranged order: first the strongest and most able to offer information, then the sickest, and finally, those considered psychologically sound enough to be the last ones out.
It's a real-life drama that has turned world attention to an unlikely place.
The desolate Atacama Desert is among the driest places on Earth about 500 miles north of Chile's capital, Santiago. For miles around, there's almost nothing, or used to be almost nothing.
One of the best ways to get a sense of the scale of the operation is to see the vast open desert surrounding the site. The entire community emerges with hundreds of people camped out along the main road that leads up to the mining operation.
Along the main dirt road is where Maria Segovio set up her small camp. Many of the families want to stay out of the media spotlight, so they're in tents in a separate part of what has been dubbed "Camp Hope."
But avoiding the media isn't easy. The area used to be totally empty; there wasn't even an open lot. Now it's filled with campers and RVs to house the estimated 1,000 journalists from networks around the world, all to witness this story of hope, a tale of suspense which is not yet over, most of all for the men half a mile underground who've been trapped longer than anyone in known history.
Doctor Jeffrey Lieberman is a chief of Psychiatry at Columbia University in New York.
"I think we have to wait for the last chapter and that's the rescue, recovery, reentry. These miners have come through this extraordinarily well because of their own internal resilience abilities, because of the extraordinary rescue effort that was mounted by the Chilean government. But, they're going to bear the scars. They're never going to be the same," Lieberman said.
But in the shadow of this now-infamous mine, there's a growing feeling that the healing process can finally begin.
"It means we're one step closer to fulfilling our promise. We all said we'd stay here until my brother and all others were out so we could go home together," Segovio said. "We came here together, and we're leaving together."
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