The 33 Chilean miners trapped for almost two months could be freed in the second half of this month as rescuers drill closer to their refuge deep below the Atacama desert, Chile's mining minister said on Friday.
The men have been trapped 2,300 feet (700 metres) underground since a cave-in on Aug 5.
Their fight for survival has captivated the country and drawn messages of support from Pope Benedict and World Cup soccer stars.
"The eventual rescue could come in the second half of October," said Mining Minister Laurence Golborne.
Rapid progress by the rescue drills has raised expectations of reaching the miners in October instead of November as first thought.
Rescuers will use metal cages designed by Chile's navy to winch the men to the surface one at a time. Doctors said the workers have started exercising in preparation for the ride back to the surface.
The trapped men, who include a first-time miner, a former soccer star and a Bolivian immigrant, have also started preparing for the trip home by sending up the gifts that have been sent down to them through small ducts over past weeks.
"The capsule is tiny, without space for all his stuff. So he's sending it up bit by bit," Juan Sanchez, father of trapped 19-year-old miner Jimmy Sanchez told state television.