The head of the complex rescue operation to extract 33 miners stuck a half mile under the Chilean desert said on Wednesday (September 22) the men will almost certainly be out by early November.
Engineers are boring successively wider holes to reach the miners in a tunnel 2300 feet below ground. The miners were trapped after a August 5 cave-in and weren't found until 17 days later.
Original estimations said the men would be underground until Christmas, but rescue chief Andre Sougarret said the progress of drills has allowed officials to move that date forward.
The Plan B drill reached miners last Friday, touching of an exhilarated celebration in the depths of the mine, but it will still take weeks to widen the shaft enough to extract the men.
Sougarret said the drill, which now appears to be the best chance to free the miners, broke down briefly early this morning as it worked to bore a bigger hole.
He said, "The Plan B drill was at 279 feet (85 meters) at 8am, meaning that it advanced 115 feet yesterday. However, early this morning we had a problem that fortunately we were able to fix. The problem was the following: one of the bits -- there are four bits -- on the drill came off because of a change in the rock. It went from harder rock to softer rock and the bit came loose. Fortunately it fell down the original hole and the miners below were able to receive it."
The miners, who must clean up the debris that falls from the Plan B drill, found the fallen drill bit and told operators on the surface.
Sougarret said, "They let us know on the surface, where they had already realized because of a loss of pressure. We had to stop the process to be able to change the bit and continue forward."
Meanwhile, relatives of the miners tried to remain patient on the surface. At Camp Hope, the makeshift tent camp that has become the temporary home of many, people huddled around shrines with pictures of the miners.
They hope the Plan C drill, a massive oil rig hauled into the mine in parts on 43 trucks, will speed up the process even more, but it is still in the process of making a guide bore hole.
Nonetheless, Sougarret said he was almost certain the miners would be out by early November.
"Today we complete one month of work. We've done a series of projects that have allowed us change the first predictions of three to four months, which would have been between November 22 and December 22. We are still thinking about the first days of November as a date we can indicate with some certainty that we will have the miners out," he said.
As the miners bide their time in the cramped, humid and hot chambers of the small San Jose copper and gold mine, life goes on for their families on the surface. At Camp Hope on Wednesday, Marion, the granddaughter of Mario Gomez, celebrated her ninth birthday.
"(Journalist asking: What do you want for your birthday) I want my grandfather to come out," Marion said.
Chile's Navy has designed a rescue capsule that will be used to winch the men to the surface one by one after the bore hole reaches 28 inches (70 cm) in diameter -- just bigger than the width of a man's shoulders.
Chile's government brought in a team of NASA experts to help keep the men mentally and physically fit during the protracted rescue bid. They lost an estimated 22 pounds each during the 17 days before they were found alive.
The 33 miners trapped half a mile underground Chilean desert will be out by early November, according to the head of rescue operations.