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Drilling starts for trapped miners

A huge drill has begun digging a planned escape route for the 33 men stuck half a mile underground in Chile.

The men are now the longest-trapped miners in recent history, having been stuck since August 5 when a landslide blocked the shaft into San Jose copper and gold mine in Atacama Desert in the north of the country.

Last year, three miners survived 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southern China. The Chileans passed that mark on Tuesday.

While doubts and extreme challenges remain, experts said the rescuers have the tools to get the job done, although the government still says it will take three to four months to reach the miners.

The 31-ton drill made a shallow, preliminary hole in the solid rock it must bore through, the first step in the week-long digging of a "pilot hole" to guide the way for the rescue.

Later the drill will be fitted with larger bits to gradually expand the hole and make it big enough for the miners to be pulled out one by one.

Before small bore holes were dug into the miners' emergency shelter, the men had survived 17 days without contact with the outside world by rationing a 48-hour supply of food and digging for water in the ground.

San Esteban, the company which operates the mine, has claimed it has no money to pay their wages and absorb lawsuits, and is not even participating in the rescue. State-run mining company Codelco has taken over.

Union leader Evelyn Olmos called on the Chilean government to pay the workers' wages, starting in September, plus cover the roughly 100 other people at the mine who are now out of work and 170 more who work elsewhere for San Esteban. Its licence has been suspended by the government.

Helping raise their spirits, the men spoke for about three minutes each to a family member on Sunday after a telephone line was lowered down one of the three existing 6in (15cm) bore holes.

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