Chilean rescuers are growing increasingly optimistic about pulling the 33 trapped miners out far sooner than originally estimated, and with drilling quickly advancing on three narrow escape chutes, they raced Tuesday to decide on a design for the capsule that will lift the men to safety.
President Sebastian Pinera has staked his presidency on being able to show the world that his government has safely rescued the miners ahead of schedule. He promised the men after they were found to be alive Aug. 22 that they would be home by Christmas - a timeframe mining experts called far too conservative - and then put hundreds of rescuers to work on three simultaneous drilling operations to reach them more quickly.
The engineer in charge of the rescue effort, Andre Sougarret, said Tuesday that "it's still premature to talk about shorter timeframes. We're sticking with the first days of November as the final date of the rescue."
But the rescue team's own numbers suggest faster progress. The biggest drill, labeled "Plan C," is capable of much faster speed, and the deeper it gets, the faster engineers plan to drill.
Barring unforeseen complications, it could break through to the miners at a point nearly 2,000 feet (597 meters) underground in the second week of October. Sougarret has said it would then take 8 days to insert an iron sleeve in the 28-inch-wide (71-centimeter-wide) chute to prevent rock falls while miners are being pulled out.