- Associated Press - Friday, September 17, 2010

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Rescuers achieved a key breakthrough in efforts to rescue 33 trapped Chilean miners on Friday, reaching the caverns where they are imprisoned with a bore hole that will now be widened so that they can be pulled to freedom.

Atacama region Gov. Ximena Matas said the T130 probe had reached the mine area near the chamber where the men have taken refuge some 2,300 feet beneath the surface.

Officials say rescue, though, is still more than six weeks away. Workers will now fit a wider bit on the drill and start boring a 26-inch hole wide enough to pull the men to the surface.

That effort will require the miners themselves to help by shifting tons of debris that falls through the hole as it is widened.

Three smaller holes drilled earlier allowed rescuers to supply the men with food, water, medical supplies and extra air, as well as lines to communicate with relatives and officials above.

On Thursday, the miners celebrated Chile’s bicentennial of independence with beef and empanadas, and they decorated their chamber with plastic Chilean flag

The San Esteban mining company, which owns the mine, has pursued bankruptcy protection since the collapse and has said it can’t afford to pay the men trapped in the San Jose mine.

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