SAN JOSE MINE, Chile - A smooth-walled path to daylight awaited 33 trapped miners yesterday as they entered the tense final hours of a two-month odyssey begun in the terror of collapsing rock deep under a Chilean mountain.
With the eyes of the world on Chile's no-expense-spared effort to ensure all the men emerge unharmed, the miners' physical and mental health was being fastidiously monitored. Precautions were taken against all manner of complications - aspirin to prevent blood clots, a special drink to settle the stomach, video monitors to watch for panic attacks.
And officials said the men were so giddy with confidence they were squabbling Saturday, the day drills broke through to them, over who would get to be the last to take a twisting, 20-minute ride the half-mile up to the surface.
A tentative but secret list was drafted of which miners should come out first when the extraction begins, probably on Wednesday.
But Health Minister Jaime Manalich said the otherwise cooperative miners were so sure of the exit plan that they were arguing about sequence.
"They were fighting with us yesterday because everyone wanted to be at the end of the line, not the beginning," he told reporters.
The final order will probably be determined by two paramedics, one from the Navy and one from the Codelco state mining company, who will be lowered into the mine to prepare the men for their journey in a rescue capsule.
Over the past week, the miners were tested to assess their health. Manalich said officials were concerned about acute hypertension in some of the miners as well as the opposite - sudden drops in blood pressure - in others because of the speed of the ascent to the surface.
Another concern is blood clotting. To counteract it, the miners began taking 100 milligrams each of aspirin yesterday, he said.- AP