SAN JOSE MINE, Chile — The first of 33 trapped miners is expected to be lifted to the surface late Tuesday after surviving more than two months about half a mile below ground, Chilean officials announced.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne announced said that officials “hope to have at least one of our miners on the surface” before the end of the day — apparently the longest period anyone has ever been trapped underground.
President Sebastian Pinera was expected to arrive shortly before the first miner is pulled out in a carefully choreographed operation meant to minimize any risk.
After a series of successful tests with the escape capsule, his remarks suggested there was no reason to wait any longer. Rescue workers on Monday had suggested the men might not be pulled out until after dawn Wednesday.
Asked about the biggest technical problem that could hit the rescue operation, co-ordinator Andre Sougarett said: “A rock could fall.”
“There is no need to try to start guessing what could go wrong. We have done that job,” a confident Golborne said. “We have hundreds of different contingencies.”
Rescuers were keeping the miners busy on final preparations they were to climb into a custom-made capsule for what tests indicated should be a smooth ride to the outside world.
“The miners are very busy — that’s also to keep their spirits up,” Health Minister Jaime Manalich said. “It remains a paradox — they’re actually much more relaxed than we are.”
As the miners emerge, they will be sheltered from the glare of TV cameras. They will get an immediate medical check and gather with a few family members in an area closed to the news media. Officials say a siren will sound as each miner emerges.
Then, they will ride in helicopters — two at a time if they are in beds, or four at a time if they can sit up — to the regional hospital in Copiapo for a battery of physical and psychological exams.
“Our job is to provide benefit and not harm,” Manalich said, urging the media — more than 1,000 journalists are working on the story — to respect their privacy.