Image: U.S. drill operators Jeff Hart, left, and James Staffel wave as the T-130 drill that made the hole reaching the 33 trapped miners is transported away from the San Jose mine
Jorge Saenz  /  AP
U.S. drill operators Jeff Hart, left, and James Staffel wave as the drill that made the hole reaching the 33 trapped miners is transported away from the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, Monday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 10/11/2010 7:45:14 PM ET 2010-10-11T23:45:14

They'll come up one by one in green overalls bearing their names on their chests — first the fittest, then the weakest, twisting in a steel cage that proved itself with four flawless test runs deep into the earth.

The dramatic endgame hastened Monday for the 33 Chilean miners who have braved two months underground, with rescuers reinforcing the escape shaft and the 13-foot-tall rescue chamber sliding, as planned, nearly all the way to the trapped men.

"It didn't even raise any dust," Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said.

If all goes well, everything will be in place late Tuesday to begin pulling the men out, officials said. The lead psychologist for the rescue team recommended the extractions begin at dawn Wednesday. No official decision was announced, but Andre Sougarret, the rescue team coordinator, tweeted Monday evening that "today the miners sleep their last night together!"

"I'm not nervous yet, but I will be big-time when it's my turn (to come up)," 19-year-old Jimmy Sanches, the youngest miner, wrote in a letter sent up on Monday. "When I get out I want to see my daughter and shout to the four winds."

His sister-in-law Roxana Avalos said the family was preparing a party for him. "Around 500 people are coming."

On Monday, the Phoenix I capsule — the biggest of three built by Chilean navy engineers, named for the mythic bird that rose from ashes — made its first test run after the top 180 feet of the shaft was encased in tubing, the rescue leader said.

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Then the empty capsule was winched 2,000 feet, just 40 feet short of the shaft system that has been the miners' refuge since an Aug. 5 collapse.

"We didn't send it (all the way) down because we could risk that someone will jump in," a grinning Golborne told reporters.

Engineers had planned to extend the piping nearly twice as far, but they decided to stop after the sleeve — the hole is angled 11 degrees off vertical at its top before plumbing down, like a waterfall — became jammed during a probe.

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Rescue team psychologist Alberto Iturra said he recommended the first man be pulled out at dawn because the miners are to be taken by Chilean air force helicopters to the nearby city of Copiapo and fog tends to enshroud the mine at night.

It is a roughly 10-minute flight, said Lt. Col. Aldo Carbone, the choppers' squadron commander. He said the pilots have night-vision goggles but will not fly unless it is clear. Ambulances will be ready for backup. The drive would take about an hour.

Officials have drawn up a secret list of which miners should come out first, but the order could change after paramedics and a mining expert first descend in the capsule to evaluate the men and oversee the journey upward.

First out will be the four fittest of frame and mind, said health minister Jaime Manalich. Next will be 10 who are weakest or ill. One miner suffers from hypertension. Another is a diabetic, and others have dental and respiratory infections or skin lesions from the mine's oppressive humidity.

The last out is expected to be Luiz Urzua, who was shift chief when the men became entombed, several family members of miners told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to upset government officials.

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The men will take a twisting, 20-minute ride for 2,041 feet up to the surface. It should take about an hour for the rescue capsule to make a round trip, Aguilar told The Associated Press.

Golborne said all would be ready by 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Officials wanted to make sure the concrete around the steel tubing at the top of the shaft set, he said.

Plans called for the media to be blocked by a screen from viewing the miners when they reach the surface. A media platform has been set up more than 300 feet away from mouth of the hole.

After being extracted, the miners will be ushered through inflatable tunnels, like the ones used in sports stadiums, to ambulances that will take them to a triage station. Once cleared by doctors there, they are to be taken to another area where they'll be reunited with one to three family members chosen by each miner.

After the reunion, the miner will be driven to a heliport for the flight to Copiapo.

President Sebastian Pinera, who has ordered a revamp of mine safety regulations in the wake of the accident, has said he plans to visit the mine Tuesday. One of the 33 miners is a Bolivian national, and Bolivian President Evo Morales has vowed to visit the mine for his rescue.

"It will be a true rebirth, not just for the 33 miners but also for the spirit of unity, strength, faith and hope they have shown our country and the world," Pinera said during a visit to Ecuador on Monday.

Gallery: Profiles of the trapped miners (on this page)

Iturra, who has tightly managed the miners' underground lives to keep them fit and busy, turned his attention Monday to their families. Just as the miners will need time to adjust once they have surfaced, so will their families, he said.

Iturra recommended they leave the tent city where they have kept vigil, which is increasingly besieged by journalists. It sprang up amid piles of rock at the copper and gold mine isolated in the coastal desert of Atacama.

"They need to get their feet firmly back on the ground as well," he said. "That's why I sent them home to sleep."

A torrent of emotions awaits the miners when they finally rejoin the outside world.

Video: Mine rescue slated for Wednesday (on this page)

As trying as it has been for them to survive underground for 68 days, the mine is at least terra cognita. Out of the shaft, they will face challenges so bewildering that no amount of coaching can fully prepare them.

They will be celebrated at first, embraced by their families and pursued by reporters, magnets for a world intensely curious to hear their survival story. They have been invited to visit presidential palaces, take all-expenses-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 AP. "These people who are coming out of the bottom of the mine are different people ... and their families are, too."

For the loved ones awaiting the miners, news that the rescue tunnel was nearly ready brought a mixture of joy and anxiety.

Maria Segovia, whose 48-year-old brother, Dario, is among those trapped, said that when he is finally out, "I'll tell him I love him, that I'm very proud of you." Then, she said, smiling, "I'll kick his backside" so he never goes into a mine again.

Chile's government has promised each miner at least six months of psychological support, in part to deal with the sudden fame.

At first they'll feel besieged, poorly treated by the media and perhaps overwhelmed by the attention even of their own families, predicted Dr. Claus Behn, a University of Chile physiologist.

Society will "demand to know every minute detail, and they're going to offer enormous quantities of money and popularity," the doctor said.

The miners' psychological support team was designed mostly to help them endure the extreme conditions. They have also received training to deal with the media, told they need not answer every intrusive question.

The miners have seemed happy in videos they filmed and sent to the surface, but some have avoided the exposure. And while Manalich insists they are unified, reflecting the disciplined teamwork that helped them survive, all that could change once they are out.

Already, relations within and between their families have become strained as some seem to be getting more money and attention than others.

A philanthropic Chilean mining executive, Leonardo Farkas, gave $10,000 checks in the miners' names to each of the 33 families, and set up a fund to collect donations. Co-workers who weren't trapped, but were left out of a job — including some who narrowly escaped getting crushed in the collapse — wonder whether they will be taken care of, too.

One miner's child was invited onto a Chilean TV game show where she earned thousands of dollars, and 27 of the 33 workers have filed a $10 million negligence lawsuit against the mine's owners. A similar suit against government regulators is planned.

The money rush will be intense — and temporary. The government required each miner to designate someone to receive their $1,600 monthly salary, and opened bank accounts that only the miners themselves can access.

But Behn said the miners need good financial advice as well so the money doesn't melt away.

"If they're getting now a violent inflow of money, it should be administered so that it can serve them for the rest of their lives," Behn said.

What often happens after situations of extreme isolation is that the survivor tells everything all at once, and when there's nothing left to say, misunderstandings begin.

Manalich said the miners seem incredibly unified.

Brandon Fisher, president of the company that made the drill hammers that opened the escape shaft, cautioned that the miners' unity may not last.

His drill heads also helped save nine men in Pennsylvania in the Quecreek Mine disaster in 2002. They, too, came out of the hole blinking in the glare of TV cameras, and in some cases their friendships and family relationships didn't hold up.

"They're in for the surprise of their lives. From here on out, their lives will have changed," Fisher predicted. "There aren't too many of those guys who get along because of all the attention, the lawsuits, the movie deals. Once money gets involved, it gets ugly."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Mine rescue slated for Wednesday

  1. Closed captioning of: Mine rescue slated for Wednesday

    >>> after months of being trap ad half mile underground, the chilean miners are closer than ever to seeing the light of day . crews just finished reenforcing the narrow escape shaft. now they're testing the cage to be used in the incredible rescue. if all goes well, the miners could begin their assent as soon as tomorrow night. doctors have put the miners on a special diet so they don't have a heart attack on the way up. kerry sanders is live right now in chile. he's been there covering the progress. what is the latest, kerry?

    >> reporter: wellwell, the really good news is they ran a test inside the shaft reinforced with the metal pipes at the top. they took the capsule and lowered it down and stopped about 40 feet shy of the final exit where the men will climb in at the bottom there. then they brought it back up and they said it worked flawless they. they said they didn't even see any dust on the outside. so they know it works. the reason they were jocking they didn't go all the way down is because they didn't want the men jumping in too soon. the reason they don't want them to come up too ? quickly, that piece of equipment, that escape capsule is on a cable. and it's going up over to a wench, and it's about a half on the. they're waiting for some concrete that is the anchor for that winch and the crane arm that the cable goes over to make sure it's secure. let me give you a picture of the excitement going on here. i'm going to take you first down main street . we call it main street here in camp hope because it's become that. clearly we're in the middle of the driest desert in the world here. this is what now develops. there are more than 1,500 journalists here from 180 nations. more arriving every day. that's mostly journalists you see walking up and down on the streets. to the sides and some tents, there are family members who have been camped out here for quite some time. i take you up the hill and you look up there, you can see two men posted on horses just above where the flags are. there are 33 flags there. 32 from chile, one from bolivia. the gentlemen on the horses are on patrol making sure nobody tries to cross over the mountain and come in the backside where the miners will come out of the hole. now as i bring you back over here towards where the hole is, it will reveal to you the work that's taking place fwhirnd me where they're actually completing the efforts on that hole. i'm going to step out of the way and show you up the hill there. they have put up a black tarp, now they have dropped the black tarp. that area with the yellow cranes, that's where they're putting together the final preps, putting the winch in place. it appears the stage is set for the rescue of the 33 miners trapped down there for 68 days. an incredible 68 days. if everything goes as planned, and it is certainly falling in extremely late on tuesday or early wednesday morning.

    >> this is extremely exciting. thank you very much. we certainly wish the best,that this all works out as planned. thank

Timeline: Inside the mine and the rescue operation

Photos: Chilean mine collapse

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  1. Carlos Galleguillos and Tabita Galleguillos, relatives of trapped miner Jorge Galleguillos, wait for news outside the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile, on Monday, Oct. 11. The engineer leading Chilean rescue efforts, Andres Sougarett, said Monday his team successfully tested a rescue capsule nearly all the way down to where 33 miners are trapped. (Natacha Pisarenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Drill operators Jeff Hart, left, and James Staffel, both U.S. citizens, wave as the drill that made the hole reaching the miners is transported away from the mine on Monday. (Jorge Saenz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Surrounded by media crews, onlookers and mine staff, the main rescue drill leaves the mine on Monday. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Rescuers test a capsule similiar to the one that will be used to recover the trapped miners at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, on Sunday, Oct. 10. (Hugo Infante / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A relative of one of the miners is hugged by a policeman after the drilling machine completed an escape hole at the mine on Oct. 9. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Workers of the T-130 drill celebrate in the arid Atacama desert on Oct. 9. The crew drilling with the T-130 drill, part of an effort dubbed "Plan B" - one of three shafts attempting to reach 33 miners trapped deep underground - finally made contact with the miners' shelter. (Francesco Degasperi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A clown named Rolly shows a flag that was sent by the 33 trapped miners as a gift at the camp where relatives wait for news outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, on Wednesday, Oct. 6. The words on the flag read in Spanish, "A souvenir for clown Rolly, from the San Jose mine, thanks for making our children laugh." Thirty-three miners have been trapped deep underground in the copper and gold mine since it collapsed on Aug. 5. (Natacha Pisarenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A helmet sits on a rock covered with the names of the 33 miners trapped in the collapsed San Jose mine. (Natacha Pisarenko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Aurelia Navarro, a volunteer missionary, prays on Oct. 5 during a small ceremony marking the 60 days since miners became trapped. (Dario Lopez-mills / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A relative of one of the trapped miners writes a message on a Chilean national flag on Oct. 4. (Martin Bernetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A team tests a possible rescue capsule designed by the Chilean Army's Shipyards on Sept. 30. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Workers on Sept. 30 test a capsule that will be used to rescue trapped miners. (Chile's Presidency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A worker checks part of a drill pulled from Rigg 421 on Sept. 24 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, where 33 miners remain trapped. (Ivan Alvarado / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Children play Oct. 2 as a worker hangs a sign identifying a module to be used as school room for relatives of the trapped Chilean miners trapped. Many of the families of the miners are living in what is called "Camp Esperanza" or "Camp Hope." (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Relatives of the trapped miners watch a video of them at the San Jose mine on Saturday, Sept. 18. (Aliosha Marquez A / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A crane lifts a capsule that will be used as part of rescue operation for the miners at the San Jose copper and gold mine on Saturday, Sept. 25. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Nelly Bugueno, mother of trapped miner Victor Zamora, checks her cell phone as she walks past the tents where families of the 33 trapped miners are living as they await rescue on Friday. (Stringer/chile / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Jesica Cortez, wife of Victor Zamora, one of the 33 miners trapped down in the shaft, rejoices as she reads a letter from her husband, at San Jose mine, near Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago, on Wednesday, Sept. 18. (Martin Bernetti / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Relatives of trapped miners Claudio Yanez and Dario Segovia write a message to them with painted stones outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, Thursday, Sept. 23. (Photographer: Aliosha Marquez A / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Members of a folkloric ballet perform at the camp where relatives of trapped miners wait for news outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday Sept. 1. Thirty-three miners have been trapped alive deep underground in the copper and gold mine since it collapsed on Aug. 5. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A composite image captured from a video on Tuesday, Sept. 1 shows four of 33 trapped miners waving at mine San Jose, near of Copiapo, Chile. (Codelco / Handout / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A sample of what it will be the first hot meal the miners still trapped in the San Jose Mine will have since the accident, Tuesday, Sept. 1 near Copiapo, Chile. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Evangelic Minister Javier Soto dedicates one of the 33 mini-bibles that will be given to the miners trapped in the San Jose mine, Monday. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. View of 33 Chilean national flags placed outside the San Jose mine by the relatives of the 33 trapped miners in Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago on Monday. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A worker checks the drill machine digging an escape hole for the 33 miners trapped underground in a copper and gold mine at Copiapo, north of Santiago, Chile, on Monday, Aug. 30. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Work to rescue the trapped miners continues on Aug. 30 at the mine, which is located 450 miles north of Santiago. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Samuel Avalo, left, and his wife Herminda Acuna, parents of Samuel Avalo Acuna, one of the trapped miners, sit outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, on Aug. 30. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Relatives of miners carry candles during a vigil outside the mine on Sunday, Aug. 29. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Trapped miners wave at a camera from underground on Aug. 29. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Chilean pianist Roberto Bravo performs during a show for the relatives of the trapped miners in Copiapo on Aug. 29. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Relatives of those trapped underground in a copper and gold mine gather around a screen showing the miners inside the mine at Copiapo, north of Santiago, Chile, on Thursday, Aug. 26. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Marion Gallardo, the granddaughter of trapped miner Mario Gomez, writes a letter to her grandfather on Wednesday, Aug. 25. The 33 miners trapped in the San Esteban gold and copper mine in Copiapo, north of Santiago, since Aug. 5 say they are "enduring hell" underground, putting urgency into the rescue operation. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A combined photo shows the 33 miners trapped in the mine in Copiapo, Chile. (Diario Atacama / Handout / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Elias Sepulveda and her cousin Katherine embrace in front of a tribute to their relatives, Esteban Rojas and Pablo Rojas, two of the miners trapped in the collapsed mine. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. An officer stands in front of the machine that will be used to rescue the miners. The miners were trapped when the shaft they were working in collapsed. (Claudio Reyes / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Relatives of the trapped miners wave to rescue workers outside the collapsed mine. Rescue teams bored a small hole down more than 2,000 feet and used a video camera to confirm the miners were alive on Aug. 22. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Florencio Avalos, one of the trapped miners, is seen Aug. 23 in an image from video. The camera was lowered more than 2,000 feet into the copper and gold mine. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Lilianette Ramirez, wife of trapped miner Mario Gomez, holds a letter from her husband outside the mine on Aug. 23. (Ivan Alvarado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Relatives of trapped miners embrace after learning that the 33 miners were found alive Aug. 22. (Stringer/chile / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Chilean workers operate a drilling machine at the San Esteban gold and copper mine on Aug. 17. (Ariel Marinkovic / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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