Chile miners should be reached 'within hours'

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Chile's mining minister Laurence Golborne: "We have to be very careful"

Rescuers hope to reach the 33 miners trapped underground in Chile within 24 hours, the mining minister says.

Laurence Golborne said drilling equipment was being changed in preparation for the final push, but he said it would be three to eight days before the rescue mission would begin.

Engineers said the shaft was now just 34m (112ft) from the chamber.

The miners were trapped 700m underground when part of the San Jose mine collapsed on 5 August.

The miners have now been underground longer than any other group.

Andre Sougarret, the engineer in charge of the drilling, said the final part of the operation would have to be handled very carefully.

"There are dangers - that we break through the hard rock, and when we break that, someone might get injured," he said.

"That's why we need to send a camera down the shaft to make sure they're not going to be in danger."

Mr Golborne said the camera would help determine if the miners could be winched up through the exposed rock, or if they would have to wait for the shaft to be encased with steel piping.

He said the casing would take three to eight more days, and a decision would be made on Saturday.

Huge cranes have been brought in to lower the metal casing if it is needed.

Officials say everything needed for the rescue is now in place.

It is expected to take an hour to winch each man to safety.

They will be given a pair of sunglasses to protect their eyes when they emerge into the sunlight.

Their relatives, many of whom have been camping at the site for the past two months, are preparing a party to celebrate their rescue.

Hundreds of journalists from around the world are expected to cover the event.

The men were trapped by a rockfall at the gold and copper mine near Copiapo, about 725km (450 miles) north of the capital Santiago.