Latin America & Caribbean

Chile miners: Family joy as rescue capsule arrives

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Media captionChile Mining Minister Laurence Golborne stepped inside to show how the miners will be retrieved

A cage specially built to help rescue 33 men trapped underground in a mine in Chile has arrived at the mine head.

The steel capsule will be used to pull the men to safety one by one, once a rescue shaft wide enough to haul them up has been drilled.

Relatives of the miners were allowed to get into the narrow cage, which is little more than 50cm (20in) wide.

It is expected to take between 20-30 minutes to pull each miner up from their shelter at a depth of 700m.

The long - and extremely narrow - steel case has been named Phoenix, and its designers hope it will lift the men to a new life overground much like the bird in Greek mythology rose from the ashes.

Relatives of the miners, who have been camped out at the mine head since the men were trapped after a rockfall more than seven weeks ago, clapped when the rescue capsule was unveiled.

'Not claustrophobic'

Carolina Lobos, 25, whose father Franklin is one of the men trapped, was one of a handful of relatives allowed to step into the cage.

She told the BBC it looked very narrow, but was actually surprisingly comfortable inside.

Ms Lobos said she had enough space to move and did not feel claustrophobic.

She did point out, though, that she had only been in the capsule for a couple of minutes and in the open air, whereas her father would have to stay in the cage for up to half an hour while it is pulled through the 700m of rock separating him and the other 32 miners from the surface.

Image caption The capsule has been specially built for the rescue

"I was very nervous, my heart was racing," she said.

"It was a very emotional moment for me to be in the capsule that will lift my dad to safety and bring him back to us," she added.

The capsule is fitted with communication equipment allowing the miners to stay in touch with the surface, and with enough oxygen to last for 90 minutes.

There are handles which release a door at the bottom of the capsule, so in case it should get stuck, the miner can winch himself back down to the shelter.

The rescue pod arrived at the mine well ahead of schedule, but Mining Minister Laurence Golborne refused to be drawn on speculation that the rescue might happen earlier than the official estimate. Currently the miners are expected to begin emerging in the first week of November.

Early on Saturday local time the Strata 950, the first of three drills working to bore a hole wide enough to rescue the men, had reached a depth of 442m (1,458ft).

But the Strata is still on its pilot hole, and will have to drill down a second time to widen the shaft enough to fit the rescue pod.

The second drill, which has already completed its pilot hole, has reached 175m (577ft).

The third machine, which is the only one to drill a shaft wide enough in the first go, is at 62m (204ft).