Timeline: Trapped Chilean miners

SANTIAGO Sun Aug 22, 2010 11:22pm EDT

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SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Thirty-three Chilean miners trapped deep underground for 17 days sent a message to the surface on Sunday, saying they were all still alive, but experts said it would take months to dig them out.

Here is a timeline of the ordeal, one of the major mining accidents in Chile's history.

August 5 - A cave-in some 1,100 feet below the surface leaves 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet vertically underground in the small copper-and-gold mine of San Jose, near the northern Chilean city of Copiapo.

The mine's owners, local private company Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, notifies authorities several hours later, saying they first had to evaluate the situation.

August 6 - Mining Minister Laurence Golborne cuts short a visit to Ecuador and flies back to Chile to lead the rescue effort in Copiapo, 500 miles north of Santiago.

Mine authorities pin their hopes on the possibility that the trapped miners have reached a shelter where oxygen, water and food had been stored.

August 7 - Rescue workers, who began descending toward the shelter via a ventilation shaft on August 6, are forced to abandon that route when a fresh cave-in blocks the duct.

President Sebastian Pinera cuts short his visit to Colombia and returns to Chile to be with the family members of the trapped miners at a temporary camp set up outside the mine.

August 8 - Rescue workers begin drilling bore-holes 5 inches in diameter into the mine to try to locate the miners.

August 11 - Pinera sacks the heads of national mining regulator Sernageomin, and vows a major overhaul of the body, which monitors mine safety.

August 19 - The farthest-along drill reaches the level in the mine where authorities presumed the miners to be, but does not hit the shelter or encounter any signs of the miners.

August 22 - Early in the day, a drill reaches a depth of 2,260 feet and rescue workers hear tapping on the drill.

Early in the afternoon, Pinera presents to family members and media a note that the miners had tied to the drill, saying "The 33 of us in the shelter are well."

Hours later, rescue workers capture the first video images of the miners, showing them to be in much better condition than expected.

Golborne and Andre Sougarret, head of the rescue drilling operation and mine manager at state-run copper giant Codelco's El Teniente mine, have said rescue of the miners will take 3-4 months, given the instability of the mine and the time needed to drill a new hole, 2.5 feet in diameter, to extract the miners.

(Reporting by Antonio de la Jara; writing by Molly Rosbach; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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