A drill boring a rescue shaft to 33 trapped miners in Chile has broken through into an underground chamber where they have been stranded since August.
The milestone at the San Jose mine came 65 days after the partial collapse of the gold and copper mine on 5 August.
The miners have been living in a shelter 700m underground. The Plan B drill — one of three working simultaneously — has broken through into a tunnel the miners can reach.
“This is an important achievement,” mining minister Laurence Golborne said. “But we haven’t rescued anybody. This rescue won’t be over until the last person leaves this mine.”
Word of the drill's success prompted celebrations among the miners' relatives who have camped there.
"Our nervousness is gone now," said Juan Sanchez, whose son Jimmy is stuck below. "Only now can we begin to smile."
Rescuers need to determine whether the miners can be winched up through the exposed rock or if they will have to wait for the shaft to be encased with steel piping.
Golborne has warned that it will be three to eight days before the rescue mission can begin. He said the finished shaft would be examined with a video camera before engineers decided whether or not to reinforce it.
If the video examination persuades engineers that the shaft is smooth, strong and uniform enough to allow the rescue capsule to reach the tunnel without significant obstacles, then rescuers plan to start pulling the men out one by one as early as Tuesday.
The miners will be strapped one at a time into the specially designed capsule for the 15 or 20 minutes it should take to reach the surface. The evacuation will only begin after the men have been examined by Chilean naval paramedics and mining rescue experts who will be sent down the shaft.