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Trapped Miners Out By Oct. 15, Chile’s President Says

Above: A rescue team tests the capsule through which the 33 miners trapped in the San Jose mine will be brought to the surface near Copiapo, Chile. Drillers passed the halfway mark Thursday in their most advanced evacuation shaft toward the men who have been trapped deep underground since Aug. 5.

Chile's president has said that drilling engineers are "very close" to rescuing the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped for two months in an underground shaft.

"We are very close to rescuing them, and I hope to be able to rescue them before leaving for Europe" on Oct. 15, Sebastian Pinera told a group of Chilean radio broadcasters Monday. "We are trying to adjust the two schedules."

When the men were discovered alive in the gold and copper mine on Aug. 22, Pinera told them they would be rescued by Christmas. Since then, his government has assembled a massive team to support three simultaneous drilling operations to sink escape shafts through a half-mile of rock.

'Esprit De Corps'

The trapped miners, who have received supplies from the surface and remained in video contact with their families, were doing remarkably well, despite their prolonged isolation, a NASA psychologist told NPR's Morning Edition on Tuesday.

Albert Holland, who has advised NASA scientists on how to cope with months-long stays aboard the International Space Station, said the miners looked "very good" after he spoke with some of them via video link.

"Initially, of course, they were undernourished, they had barely survived, they were scruffy, they were exhausted," he said. "And then as time has gone by, they've gotten new clothes, they've gotten shaving equipment, esprit de corps and there's a lot better look on their faces, and their families feel a lot better."

He said the miners have stuck to a careful organization. The original mining foreman has remained the group's leader. A medic and a "spiritual leader" have also been appointed.

"They have prayer once or twice a day, so he's a counselor, if you will. He provides guidance, knowledge, reflection for the other miners," Holland told Morning Edition.

He said special "circadian" lighting had been sent down to the miners to simulate day and night in an effort to maintain their natural body rhythms.

In anticipation of their rescue, the miners have been sending keepsakes for the past two weeks via the same capsules that carry food, clean clothes, medicine and other supplies down through a narrow borehole to their underground cavern. Letters from their families, signed Chilean flags and other things they don't want to leave behind are coming up out of the hole each day, said Alberto Iturra, the chief of a team of psychologists supporting the miners.

One of the miners, Mario Sepulveda, turned 40 on Monday. Rescuers sang "Happy Birthday" to him by telephone, and sent down 33 little cakes.'We Can't Take Any Risks'

Monday marked the 59th day the miners have spent underground since the Aug. 5 collapse of more than 700,000 tons of rock sealed off the lower third of the mine.

Rescue chief Andre Sougarret was cautious about Pinera's timetable, saying the most important thing is to ensure safety.

"I understand the desire of everyone, me included, is to leave as soon as possible. Still, we can't take any risks," he said.

Sougarret announced that the leading T130 "Plan B" rescue drill was delayed for hours Monday to replace one of its hammers, and that the Rig 421 "Plan C" oil well drill went slightly off course. Now the "Plan C" team is recalibrating its drill, slowing its advance. And the "Plan A" drill, which trails the other two, has been stalled since Saturday to change its drill bit.

"As of now, we don't have anything new that would enable us to move up the date" from the second half of October, Souggaret said.

Only when the T130 drill has reached the miners, and the team has lowered a video camera to painstakingly examine the walls of the shaft, will the rescue team decide whether to reinforce the shaft with steel tubing. That process could extend the miners' stay for three to 10 days, but would ensure their safety should the unstable mine shift on their way up. A specially designed capsule will be used to bring each miner to the surface.

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