The Plan B drill team celebrates after breaking through to the miners' workshop on Saturday, October 9.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The mood in Campamento Esperanza is feverish, at least among the media who count down the hours to rescue, expected to begin at 8 p.m. local time tonight (7 p.m. EST).
The families, meanwhile, have retreated into their private thoughts. Some pray, others clutch some small object of sentimental value that reminds them of their husband, father, brother, or son.
Or they re-read worn, tear-stained letters from their loved ones below, letters whose words they already know by heart.
Or rehearse speeches that will never get beyond the first few words, as pure emotion inevitably takes over.
The Chilean President will fly in by helicopter this afternoon, and tomorrow we await the arrival of Evo Morales, the left-wing President of Bolivia, who wants to greet Carlos Mamani, the only non-Chilean miner trapped below.
The media village, bristling with satellite dishes and Winnebagos, continues to spread down the hill away from the mine head. Journalists will jostle for position on the platform from which we will be able to record the rescue.
Meanwhile, the families wait, pray, hope, and, if all goes as expected, finally, finally, celebrate.
Monday, October 11
As the endgame begins at the San José mine, the clutch of families who have been camped out in improvised shelters ever since the mine collapse of August 5 have now been joined by more than 1,200 journalists from 40 different countries.
We arrived in Copiapó, Chile, the nearest city to the mine, a month to the day after the accident, which left 33 miners locked in a confined, sunless space nearly half a mile below the surface.
Sunday, September 5 was also the day the Schramm T-130 drill, the heart of Plan B, started its work. (Simultaneously, two other drilling operations, Plans A and C, have been trying to reach the miners.)
Plan B completed drilling of the first narrow pilot hole on September 17, which gave extra zest to the celebrations of the nation's bicentenary the following day.
And so when the drill broke through on Saturday it was a particularly special day for us.
Tests with the rescue capsules were carried out this morning, and the rescue could begin tomorrow (Tuesday) night.
By this weekend, if all goes well, all the miners could be home with their families.
Sunday, October 10
The mood in Camp Hope is calm and relaxed now that Plan B has broken through to the miners' workshop.
Yesterday's breakthrough at 8:05 a.m. prompted elation among the families and frenetic activity from the news crews.
Now we all sit and wait until Wednesday, when the specially designed capsule will be winched down to start bringing the miners up one by one, an operation that is expected to last about 35 hours.
All being well, the miners might be reunited with their families as early as Thursday.
Yesterday, NOVA's was one of the few film crews allowed on site at Plan B to capture the extraordinarily emotional moment of breakthrough.
Amidst the tears, cheering, and backslapping on the operations platform, the coolest man on the planet was the hero of the hour. U.S. driller Jeff Hart, who hails from Denver, Colorado, greeted the achievement with a simple thumbs up before being hugged by the emotional Chilean mining minister, Laurence Golborne.
I suspect rough, tough drillers like Jeff don't generally hug, but this was a special moment.
Friday, October 8
Today the mood in Campamento Esperanza (Camp Hope) is electric. Within days the miners could be out of their subterranean prison 2,300 feet belowground and back with their families.
As I write (10:30 a.m. local time, Chile), the Schramm T-130 drill hovers just 130 feet above the miners' workshop.
They have been working shifts over the past fortnight clearing the broken pieces of rock that have been tumbling down into their improvised home.
Now they must feel so close to release.
Meanwhile, up top, the camp has filled with hundreds of journalists from all over the world. All available land around the mine has been cleared and flattened, and is now home to a city of tents, Winnebagos, and satellite dishes.
The families held a candlelit vigil last night. But what should have been a tender moment turned into a media circus, muttered prayers drowned out by the din of camera shutters.
Now, as temperatures push through the 80s, we, the media and families, sit, wait, talk, and hope, as does the world beyond.