London, Aug.26 (ANI): Chilean authorities have expressed fears that the 33 miners trapped underground in the San Jose mine in Copiapo might get too fat to fit through a 26-inch diameter escape shaft at Christmas.
The miners have so far survived for over 17 days by eating two spoons of tuna, a few sips of milk and half a biscuit every 48 hours, but with those starvation rations now over, there are fears that the group will put on weight due a lack of exercise in the very confined space.
The Telegraph quoted Chile's Health Minister Jaime Manalich as saying that President Sebastian Pinera has spoken by telephone with some of the 33 men and warned them that the rescue mission 'will take some time'
Manalich said the priority was to keep the miners physically and mentally well during those months and they will be sent tape measures to ensure they do not put on so much weight that they cannot squeeze through the tiny borehole.
The miners' blood pressure, temperature and pulses will all be monitored and Doctor Javier Brand, who is involved in the rescue operation, said: 'They will be advised to exercise regularly so they are in good shape for the rescue, which will be though a small orifice.'
The group will also receive food, drink and oxygen via three six-inch boreholes drilled into their refuge, a space described as no bigger than an average flat, and the first food package they get will be a chocolate or vanilla flavoured soup containing vitamins and protein.
Mining minister Laurence Goldborne said he believed the workers would have got out within 48 hours of the cave-in if the ladder had been installed.
One of the trapped miners, shift foreman Luis Urzua, 54, told rescue workers: 'We attempted to get up through the air shaft, but as it didn't have a ladder, we aborted.'
The miners have been trapped half a mile underground since August 5 following a cave-in at the San Jose mine in Copiapo, 500 miles north of the capital Santiago.
Chile has also called on NASA for help in keeping the miners alive until Christmas.
The spirits appear to be strong among the trapped miners - who have asked for some wine to celebrate the country's bicentennial on September 18, and they were boosted today by a visit from the Chilean President.
Pinera spoke with shift foreman Luis Urzua to reassure the men everything possible was being done to get them to safety. (ANI)