COPIAPO, Chile, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- NASA experts helping Chilean authorities rescue 33 miners trapped underground cautioned relief crews against inappropriate food and drink for the men as preparations for large-bore drilling continue.
As the first hot meal was piped 2,300 feet below the surface at the San Jose copper and gold mine 28 miles north of Copiapo, NASA experts prepared to apply space travel experience to keep the men healthy in their confined underground shelter.
More drilling with a wider diameter machine will likely resume soon in the first stage of a rescue operation set to last three to four months.
The miners were trapped when part of the mine collapsed Aug. 6 and a section of a ventilation shaft caved in the following day.
After several drilling attempts to reach them, the men made contact when a probe created a borehole near them Aug. 22. "The 33 of us are fine in the shelter," said a note written on an insulation tape and attached to the drill bit as it was withdrawn to the surface.
The news electrified Chile and signaled the start of a gigantic rescue operation. NASA help arrived following an appeal by President Sebastian Pinera.
A giant drill is boring a 26-inch diameter hole at a cautious pace so as not to trigger another collapse in the mine complex. After NASA advice, rescuers stopped supplying the trapped miners with cigarettes and alcohol and switched to food that could sustain the men more effectively.
Officials said they would keep monitoring the miners' health using the existing narrow access route, used earlier to pipe down food and drink.
At the same time, engineers would continue monitoring the drilling operations to make sure the dust and rubble created as a result didn't overwhelm the miners at the underground shelter.
Rescuers drilled two additional boreholes to supply miners with enriched oxygen and to facilitate video chats between the men and their families.
Once drilling is complete miners would be lifted one by one in a narrow metal cage in a precarious operation fraught with risks.
As rescue efforts were under way and crowds of families, friends and relatives gathered at the site the tense situation at times gave way to tragicomic scenes as women hitherto unknown to the wives of the trapped men appeared on the scene to claim state benefits. The secret mistresses of some of the men confronted the wives while claiming entitlement to government cash aid.
Officials said that in some cases it might be necessary for the men to designate a single woman as the significant other.
At least one miner was revealed as having several women as lovers who all came to the rescue scene in the hope of receiving cash handouts and a share of future compensation.
Lawyers for the mining company have hinted the operator of the mine may declare bankruptcy to escape huge compensation claims.