President confident Chilean miners will be freed soon

President confident Chilean miners will be freed soon

Chile's president said his government is "very close" to pulling 33 trapped miners to safety and he hopes to be there in person to see the rescue before leaving on a trip to Europe.

It was Sebastian Pinera who told the miners after they were found alive on August 22 that they would be saved by Christmas, and his government has assembled a team of hundreds to support them while three simultaneous drilling operations pound escape shafts through a half-mile of rock.

The drilling has gone well enough to move up the date since then, but rescue leaders have been cautious: Only last week, they estimated a late-October pullout.

Now the president has changed the expected date again, to before his October 15-22 trip.

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

"For me it is very important to share this moment - not only with the 33 miners, but with their families and all Chileans," Mr Pinera added.

The miners also are getting ready for their big day.

For the last two weeks, they have been sending keepsakes up in 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 do not 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.

Told of Mr Pinera's statement, rescue chief Andre Sougarret said he understands how anxious everyone is to rescue the men, who yesterday completed 59 days underground since the August 5 collapse of more than 700,000 tons of rock sealed off the lower third of the mine.

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

Setbacks also are expected.

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