COPIAPO, Chile — Barring last-minute complications, rescuers plan to reach 33 trapped Chilean miners by daybreak Saturday morning and then make a critical decision that will determine how soon afterward to have them above ground.
Mining minister Laurence Golborne said Thursday that a drill was within 300 feet of where the men have been stuck since a mine collapse Aug. 5. It's the closest of three competing drilling operations racing to reach the miners, who remain huddled in a 600-square-foot refuge about 2,300 feet below the entrance of the mine.
At the current rate, the Schramm T130 drill should reach the miners between midnight and dawn Saturday. But officials cautioned that the final stretch is perhaps the most delicate because the rock is weakest structurally above the cavern where the men are gathered.
Engineers won't decide until after the hole is completed whether they will fully or partially line it with metal tubing. The decision will follow a close inspection with video cameras.
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Excitement was building Thursday among family members at the prospect that their loved ones will soon emerge. Their entrapment is thought to be the longest in mining history prior to a successful rescue. Dozens of miners' family members have kept vigil at the mine, camped in tents near the entrance.
A medic and an engineer from the rescue team are to be lowered to test and advise the miners before their rescue begins. The miners have already begun aerobic exercises to prepare for the change in environment, officials said.