The first of the 33 Chilean miners trapped since Aug. 5 are likely to reach the surface Wednesday, after a 2,300-foot rescue shaft was completed over the weekend. Workers finished lining the first few hundred feet of the 28-inch-wide tunnel with metal pipe Monday, and the next few days will be spent testing the escape pod and readying the miners for their upward journey. (Watch an ABC News report about the rescue mission.) Here's a look at what lies in store for Chile's 33 national heroes:
What is the rescue plan?
Before any miners are removed, a doctor and a paramedic will be lowered down to the trapped men to do a final, pre-escape exam. The miners have already undergone a battery of tests, and will be put on a special liquid protein diet to prepare from for the twisting, solo 20-minute trip in the rescue pod, named the Phoenix. The miners will be in video and radio contact with the surface on the ride up.
Who is coming out first, and last?
There is reportedly a list, but it is secret. The miners have been divided into three groups: The "most skilled" and psychologically fit will come out first, in case they are required go back into the mine to help with the rescue, then the weakest, and then everyone else. Health Minister Jaime Manalich says the miners have been gallantly vying to be the last ones out, out of "comradeship." The miners told rescue officials they have another reason, says Jonathan Franklin in The Washington Post — the last one up will be in the Guinness Book of Records for most time trapped in a mine. It will be "a record that many consider insurmountable," Franklin adds.
What dangers do the miners face?
The quick ascent up nearly half a mile could lead to acute hypertension, a drop in blood pressure, or blood clots, so the miners are taking aspirin and will wear special constricting socks and girdles. The biggest concern, though, is "panic attacks," said Manalich. "This is the first time in many weeks that the miners are going to be completely alone." The miners are still "more excited than scared or nervous," says Brandon Fisher, whose company made the drill heads. "That first guy up might be a little nervous, though."
What happens when they arrive at the surface?
They will undergo a two-hour medical exam, see family members if they are deemed well enough, then fly by helicopter to the nearest hospital for two days of physical and psychological assessment. Miners who arrive during daylight will wear sunglasses and be examined in a darkened room at the end of a darkened hallway.
What can the miners expect in the future?
According to relatives, the miners have decided to set up a legal pact in which they will share equally any profits from the expected lucrative media deals, so none of them has to work again. They have refused interviews so far, and will jointly tell their story in a book. One story they reportedly won't tell, however, is what happened in the first 17 days of their entombment, before rescuers reached them with bore holes. "They have taken a pledge of silence," says one miner's wife. Preparing for newfound fame will be one issue, says Adam Mann in Nature. But maybe harder still will be learning to "adapt to the notoriety wearing off as they picking up the reigns of their former lives."