It is a breakthrough in one of the most challenging rescues ever.
The first of three drills has reached 33 Chilean miners trapped half a mile underground. It means they could now be freed sooner than first thought, in late October or early November.
The miners greeted the arrival of the drillhead with an exhilarated mesage of thanks to those battling to get them back to the surface.
“Thank you so much to the government. Thank you so much to the business leaders and to all those who have been working their tails off for us,” said trapped miner Mario Sepulveda.
Engineers are boring successively wider holes, using three drills to reach the miners, stuck since August 5 below ground after a cave-in. For those involved, it is the mission of a lifetime.
“We drill for oil and gas. We drill for water and minerals, things like that. Drilling for human life is a completely different task in hand, so much more important than anything else that we have ever drilled for in our careers,” said American driller Brandon Fisher.
As work progresses, the anxious wait continues for the miners’ families. Today their men are joining the rest of Chile in celebrating the country’s bicentennial, after nutritionists prepared traditional meat pies to send underground.