Rescuers at the Chilean mine expect to begin the rescue of 33 trapped miners during "the last quarter" of Tuesday, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said.
"We hope to finish the day with at least one miner on the surface," he said.
The concrete base built for the winch system at the San Jose Mine in Chile has hardened, paving the way for the rescue of the miners to start tonight, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said. The winch that will pull the trapped miners out in Chile will extract them at .7 meters (2.3 feet) per second, Health Minister Jaime Malanich said. In case of emergency, the speed of ascension can be increased to 3 meters (9.8 feet) per second.
The attempted rescue, which the Chilean government said has been meticulously planned, is slated to begin late Tuesday and could last for hours or days. The 33 miners have been underground for 68 days.
With less than 24 hours before the operation begins, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said he is looking forward to the imminent rescue of the miners who are nearly half a mile below ground.
Rescue workers and officials said they are hopeful – they've tested out the rescue capsule – and are making final preparations, including monitoring the miners' health and preparing special diets for them. Still, during the tumultuous ascent, officials will be concerned about the effect of barometric pressure on the men's bodies as they are brought up – and the "bends" and "chokes" that could occur.
The rescues, if they occur without a hiccup, also will bring a dramatic change in environment for the miners – something that officials will be monitoring, too.
The mine collapsed August 5, blocking the main ramp into the mine. Thirty-one miners quickly found a "workshop" in one of the mine's caverns, while two others followed an errant white butterfly to the refuge after the dust cleared.
The 4-inch-wide boreholes through which the 33 miners receive tubes filled with food, water and other necessities would not be drilled for 18 more days.
By the time they are removed, they will have been beneath the earth for about 1,700 hours. Much of that time will have been spent in the "Refuge 33" shelter that measures 538 square feet, the size of a cozy studio apartment.
Their relatives and friends have spent much of that time at Camp Hope – a makeshift city of tents and a place where they could all come to be debriefed, send messages to their loved ones and share their stories with the media.
Now, they eagerly await and hope for their loved ones' embraces. The whole world also will be watching – and waiting to see as each miner emerges in the rescue capsule, the door slowly opens and they step back onto the solid above-ground desert land where their descent first began.
Only then, perhaps, can there be a collective sigh from those who have worked for more than two months to make sure these rescues would be successful.
Barring any problems with the rescue, there still will be a long road ahead for the miners.
But just like the name of the baby born recently to one of the miners, Esperanza, there also will be plenty of hope – for the families, the miners and their future.