Rescuers have made a breakthrough in their efforts to rescue 33 miners by drilling a bore hole into the cavern where the men are trapped 2,300ft beneath the surface.
The hole will now be widened so that the miners can be pulled to freedom, Ximena Matas, the governor of the Atacama region, said yesterday.
However, officials say the rescue is still more than six weeks away. Workers will now fit a wider bit on the drill and start boring a 26-inch hole that will be wide enough to pull the men to the surface.
That effort will require the miners themselves to help by shifting tonnes of debris that fall through the hole as it is widened.
Three smaller holes that have already been drilled have allowed rescuers to supply the men with food, water, medical supplies and extra air, as well as to provide lines to communicate with relatives and officials on the surface.
On Thursday, the miners celebrated Chile's bicentenary of independence from Spain with a meal of beef and empanadas, and they decorated their underground chamber with plastic Chilean flags. The country's President, Sebastian Pinera, is expected to visit the mine and talk to the miners later today.
The San Esteban mining company, which owns the mine, has pursued bankruptcy protection since the collapse on 5 August and has said it can't afford to pay the men trapped in the San Jose mine.Reuse content