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Chilean miners: A way out, at last, as drill punches through

A drilling rig punched through to where 33 Chilean miners have been trapped for 66 days under the Chilean desert, raising cheers, tears and hopes on Saturday.

Relatives of the 33 Chilean miners trapped deep underground in a copper and gold mine react after the T 130 drilling machine completed an escape hole for the miners at San Jose mine near Copiapo city on Saturday October 9.

Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

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A drilling rig punched through to the underground purgatory where 33 miners have been trapped for 66 agonizing days under the Chilean desert, raising cheers, tears and hopes on Saturday.

Relatives waiting at "Camp Hope" on the surface waved Chilean flags and shouted with joy as word spread of the breakthrough, and one man frantically rang a bell even before a siren sounded to officially confirm that the escape shaft had reached the miners. They are still several days away from rescue: Engineers must first check the shaft and decide whether to reinforce it before pulling them to the surface.

"We feel an enormous happiness, now that I'm going to have my brother," said Darwin Contreras, whose brother Pedro, a 26-year-old heavy machine operator, is stuck down below. "When the siren rang out, it was overwhelming. Now we just have to wait for them to get out, just a little bit longer now."

IN PICTURES: Chile mine collapse

The "Plan B" drill won a three-way race against two other drills to carve a hole wide enough for an escape capsule to pull the miners out one by one.

While "Plan A" and "Plan C" stalled after repeatedly veering off course, the "Plan B" drill reached the miners at a point 2,041 feet below the surface at 8:05 a.m., after 33 days of drilling.

Jeff Hart of Denver, Colorado, operated the drill, and said the entire rescue crew erupted with cheers when the T130 broke through.

"There is nothing more important than saving, possibly saving 33 lives. There's no more important job than that," Hart said. "We've done our part, now it's up to them to get the rest of the way out."

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