Chile 'very close' to mine rescue
Chile's president has said that his government is "very close" to pulling 33 trapped miners to safety and he hopes to be there in person to see the rescue before leaving on a trip to Europe.
It was Sebastian Pinera who told the miners after they were found alive on August 22 that they would be saved by Christmas, and his government has assembled a team of hundreds to support them while three simultaneous drilling operations pound escape shafts through half a mile of rock.
The drilling has gone well enough to move up the date since then, but rescue leaders have been cautious, and only last week they estimated a late-October extraction.
Now the president has changed the expected date again, to before his trip on October 15.
"We are very close to rescuing them, and I hope to be able to rescue them before leaving for Europe," he told a group of Chilean radio broadcasters. "We are trying to adjust the two schedules."
"For me it is very important to share this moment - not only with the 33 miners, but with their families and all Chileans."
The miners also are getting ready for their big day, and for the last two weeks they have been sending keepsakes up in the same capsules that carry food, clean clothes, medicine and other supplies down through a narrow borehole to their underground cavern.
Letters from their families, signed Chilean flags and other things they don't want to leave behind are coming up out of the hole each day, said Alberto Iturra, the chief of a team of psychologists supporting the miners.
Told of Mr Pinera's statement, rescue chief Andre Sougarret said he understands how anxious everyone is to rescue the men, who on Monday completed 59 days underground since the collapse of more than 700,000 tons of rock sealed off the lower third of the mine.
"I understand the desire of everyone, me included, is to leave as soon as possible. Still, we can't take any risks," he said.