Rescuers on Monday reinforced the hole drilled to bring 33 trapped miners to safety and then successfully lowered a rescue capsule nearly all the way down to where the men are trapped, showing the escape route works.
That means that if all goes well, everything will be in place at midnight Tuesday to begin pulling the men out of their subterranean purgatory.
Andre Sougarett, the rescue leader, said the empty capsule descended 610 metres, just 12 metres short of the shaft system where the miners have been trapped since an August 5 collapse.
“We didn’t send it (all the way) down because we could risk that someone will jump in,” Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told reporters.
He called the 6 am test “very promising, very positive” and said the capsule, the biggest of three built by Chilean Navy engineers, “performed very well in the duct.”
“It didn’t even raise any dust,” he said.
The steel capsule was lowered by winch into the hole after its top 55 metres were encased in tubing, said Mr. Sougarett.
Engineers had originally planned to encase nearly twice that distance but he said that they decided to stop because of the angle of the top of the 71-cm diameter hole.
It is 11 degrees off vertical at the very top and engineers said they decided a longer tube risked damaging a very smooth hole.
A torrent of emotions awaits the miners when they finally rejoin the outside world.
As trying as it has been for them to survive underground for more than two months, their gold and copper mine is familiar territory. Once out of the shaft, they’ll face challenges so bewildering, no amount of coaching can fully prepare them.
They’ll be celebrated at first, embraced by their families and pursued by more than 750 journalists who have converged on the mine, competing for interviews and images to feed to a world intensely curious to hear their survival story.
They’ve been invited to visit presidential palaces, take all-expense paid vacations and appear on countless TV shows.
Contracts for book and movie deals are pending, along with job offers. More money than they could dream of is already awaiting their signature.
But eventually, a new reality will set in — and for most, it won’t be anything like the life they knew before the mine collapsed above their heads.
“Before being heroes, they are victims,” University of Santiago psychologist Sergio Gonzalez told The Associated Press. “These people who are coming out of the bottom of the mine are different people ... and their families are too.”