Rescuers achieved a key breakthrough in efforts to rescue 33 trapped miners on Friday, reaching the caverns where they are imprisoned with a bore hole that will now be widened so that they can be pulled to freedom.
Atacama region Gov. Ximena Matas said the T130 probe had reached the mine area 2,070 feet beneath the surface, near the chamber where the men have taken refuge.
The breakthrough means the rescue could come a little sooner than previously expected, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said. The government had said previously that if all went as planned, the miners could be pulled out in early November.
"We're going a bit better than what we had expected," Golborne said. "The timeline we have presented takes into consideration contingencies, that always present themselves in these circumstances, and they have been fewer than expected. At this point we're a little bit ahead."
Workers now must fit a wider bit on the drill and start boring a 26-inch hole wide enough to pull the men to the surface. Then, plans call for sections of metal pipe to be inserted in the hole to prevent it from collapsing while the miners are pulled up. In all, the process will take weeks.
That effort will require the miners themselves to help by shifting tons of debris that falls through the hole as it is widened.
Three smaller holes drilled earlier allowed rescuers to supply the men with food, water, medical supplies and extra air, as well as lines to communicate with relatives and officials above.
On Thursday, the miners celebrated Chile's bicentennial of independence with beef and empanadas, and they decorated their chamber with plastic Chilean flag
The San Esteban mining company, which owns the mine, has pursued bankruptcy protection since the collapse and has said it can't afford to pay the men trapped in the San Jose mine.
Earlier this week, two dozen companies with operations in Chile haveand their 317 sidelined co-workers at a job fair. Even if they choose to go back to mining, the work won't necessarily be underground and it will almost certainly be with a company with a better safety record than their struggling current employer.