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Drilling begins on escape route for miners

A huge drill began digging a planned escape route today as 33 men stuck half 800m underground in Chile became the longest-trapped miners in recent history.

The men were trapped on 5 August when a landslide blocked the shaft down into the San Jose copper and gold mine in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Last year, three miners survived 25 days trapped in a flooded mine in southern China, and the Chileans passed that mark today.

The government says it will take three to four months to reach the miners.

“The drill operators have the best equipment available internationally,” said Dave Feickert, director of KiaOra, a mine safety consulting firm in New Zealand which has worked extensively with China’s government to improve dangerous mines there.

“This doesn’t mean it will be easy,” he added. “They are likely to run into some technical problems that may slow them down.”

The 31t drill made a shallow, preliminary test hole today in the solid rock it must bore through. This is 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 men to be pulled out one by one.

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

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