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Chile Miner Rescue

Aired October 12, 2010 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: John, thanks very much. We continue the breaking news coverage. We're going to continue all through this hour and really all thought the night. Larry King will be joining us an hour from now and we'll have a two hour edition of 360.

What we're looking at, 33 miners, tonight, underground, waiting, waiting for their first look after 68 days underground at the stars. These are live pictures, of course, from the rescue site in a remote corner of Chile. Final preparations underway above and below ground, communication and video being tested, monitoring equipment being tested, medical sensors, the miners will wear being checked out. The pod they'll ride in, now, in place above the shaft, all of it getting one last look.

Any moment now, we're expecting the lowering of several rescuers to begin one at a time. As many as five, perhaps, rescuers, medical personnel, and others will be lowered down to check on the condition of the miners but also, very importantly, and this is a crucial thing we are going to watching over the next several hours, is the condition of the shaft. Will the shaft hold as the capsule is lowered down?

They've tested it, yes, but they haven't tested it going all the way down and there has been some concern about the inner structure of the shaft. They've put in lead, metal along the top of it to try to shore it up, but there was some concern with even that, that the weight of that might kind of bring the shaft in, having some sort of collapse. That obviously would be a disaster. But right now, it looks like everything is a go. The pod is in place.

A short time later, the first miner is expected to emerge. His freedom will come when it does, after a cramped and harrowing journey to the surface in that rescue pod designed by the people who make space capsules, though space is the last word you'd associate with it. About, it's two feet wide and it's less than 22 inches in diameter. Take two sheets of paper and hold them end to end, that's about it.

First thing, a number of rescuers will be lowered into the mine to make sure that everyone is medically, mentally ready for the tight squeeze home. That is a concern, not only just the medical condition of the miners, as it is right now, but what might happen to them as they come up.

Remember, this is a very deep underground, 2,000 feet, more than 2,000 feet underground. They've been in 90-degree conditions now for these 68 days. They're going to be moving up into very cold conditions as they get closer to the surface. It's a very tight squeeze. They're experienced miners, but there is some concern that some might panic, that there might be some sort of separation anxiety after being with, you know, 32 other people all this time. So, the condition of the miners, as they come up, is a big concern for officials on the ground and we're going to talk to Sanjay Gupta and other medical personnel about that.

The ride up starting, we've learned, start with these two men, Florencio Avalos, who acted as a cameraman during the ordeal, and Mario Sepulveda, who appeared as a narrator on many of the videos that we have seen.

Now, we are live, while I bring it to you with coverage from Chile. We have a team of experts here in medicine, mental health, engineering, mountaineering, mining, as well as the people from NASA who consults on the rescue with Chilean government. But let's start things off right now with Gary Tuchman who had the latest on the ground and 2,300 feet beneath it.

Gary, where is this operation right now? What do we know about it? Is it a go?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it is a go. And this is the first time, not only in the history of mining, but in the history of civilization that something like this will happen. So many men so far underground for so long. Never have many men been underground for so long, 68 days.

And right behind me, this is the spot. This is the first time we've been allowed to get this close to the spot where the miners are. and these men have now been here for two hours getting everything ready with the capsule which will shortly be going down with between one and five medical experts and mining rescue officials who will go down 2,300 feet, nearly half mile, ascertain how things are underground, and then start this historical, important, and very suspenseful process of bringing the 33 miners to the ground.

Once each minder comes, and it will be one at a time, because the capsule is only big enough for one person, it will be a 16 to 17 minute ride to the top. Once they get there, they will be brought to a building right next to where they'll be coming up, that is a trauma center that has been set up just to make sure there's nothing that has to be taken care of right away. At the same time, their family members will be in nearby tents watching this take place in person. And then they will bring the family members to another building nearby, bring the miner to a building and that will be the reunion center where you will see emotional reunions. We'll have video of those reunions, also. It will be so happy and emotional. It will just be unbelievable to see.

And then it's mandated that each of the 33 miners, no matter what kind of condition they are in, will have to go on a helicopter ride to a nearby hospital to get checked out. But it's anticipated that most, if not all of these miners will be in good shape. As you were saying, Anderson, the first two miners who are coming up, one them is the photographer who's been the videographer in a lot of these pictures we've seeing. The other one is the announcer. They are in good shape and they're being brought up first just to make sure everything's OK with the cylinder and then some of the miners who are not so good shape will come up. One of them with hypertension and one with high blood pressure.

COOPER: And I know that was part of the discussion, whether they would send up the miners who are, you know, the least well off miners, to get them out first, but because there is this concern about the actual shaft that has been drilled, they wanted to send out, Gary, correct me if I'm wrong, but they wanted to send out the healthiest miners first, at least the first two, so that if this pod, if this capsule gets stuck somehow, the strongest miners might be able to free it on the way out. Is that correct?

TUCHMAN: That's exactly the idea. They want to bring two, three, or four very healthy, physical, mental, emotion miners just in case there are any problems. Miners they think can handle the situation, then start bringing up the people who are the most vulnerable. But the idea is that they think everything it will be fine because they did it with the test run with this capsule, they brought it down about 2,100 feet, only 200 feet from the bottom. One of the mining officials was asked why didn't you bring it all the way to the bottom while you were testing it and he said half jokingly and half seriously, we're afraid some of the miners would have hopped on. But it did well the first time. But it's got to go up and down 33 times and that's the major concern.

They had no dust, no problem with the rocks falling the first time, but after 33 times going up and down, that's where they realized there could be some problems. They're hopeful there won't be, but they're aware of the possibility of problems.

COOPER: And not only do we have the drama of the scene that's going to be unfolding over the next several hours, and we hope you stay with us for it, there also is just the remarkable story of what these miners have been through. And a lot of that story really hasn't been told, that the mental, the emotional, and even just the physical reality of being underground for this length of time, being together in darkness, it's really kind of a fascinating study in how people survive. We're going to talk a lot about how they divided up their tasks. How they stuck to very rigid routines and how they created light and dark areas, which is one of the thing that we understand that NASA had advised them to do to really try to help with the circadian rhythms that people need in order to function properly. So they are not constantly living in darkness that there would be some area where there would be some light and get their bodies used to having some sort of clock that they could adjust to.

We're going to be talking to Gary throughout this hour, throughout the night, ahead. We wanted folks though more right now on the rescue pod that is in place waiting above the shaft, right now. You can see pictures of it throughout the evening. It's a pretty tight squeeze. I want to bring in Chad Myers. He can actually show you, himself, he has kind of a mock-up of it down in Atlanta -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It's 21, a little bigger than that, inches around on the inside. Obviously, this is a mockup. We put Plexiglas on the outside of it, not the mesh that they're going to have it. As I open it up and I climb in. it will get a little hollow in here, but you get the idea. It is a tight fit. I mean, it's a tight fit, but if I really wanted to compress myself, I could probably get in here another good four inches smaller, even if this is here.

These men want to get out of there, OK? I'm sure they can contort themselves into even smaller spaces than this. I think that this is not going to be the issue at all. If you notice, if you go out there and you notice how that outside shot, you'll see that there's a big white space up there. It's like almost five or six feet higher than the pod, the pod where the people go. The big white space is where there are cords, wires and actually cables that will be the escape mechanism if on the way up, there's a person in here, and it gets stuck, they can unlatch it and literally drop themselves back down into the mine, back where they're safe, rather than being stuck in the hole itself.

Ninety degrees down here, right now. Relative humidity somewhere around 80 percent, it's been like that now for two months for these guys. And they're going to take up rather slowly. Normal elevator between three and five miles per hour. This is not going to go that fast. A 28-inch bore, diameter borehole, a 20-inch inside it with a 20-minute ride all the way to the top, it's going to get much colder on the way up.

Average elevator is three to five mile per hour, this going one mile per hour for that 2,000 foot ride to the top. The pressure is going to be lower up above and we've talked to a lot of people today about the bends. Is there any chance that these men being down there, very deep, may have problems coming up so fast? Even though it's one mile per hour, that's still pretty fast if you've been down there for 68 days.

So, no, we don't think so. There's not enough pressure difference and there's not enough -- we don't think there's enough partial pressure of nitrogen and oxygen problems down there that when they come up, they would get the nitrogen bubbles like a scuba diver would if they were down underwater for too long.

But the temperature up above, at night, in the middle 40s. One other thing at night, what happens is that, Anderson, it gets foggy there and the helicopters may not be able to fly in the fog. So there's that. One more thing I wanted to bring to you. This is the picture of them bringing the drill out. And this has been a real Chilean success story but that drill, right there -- is that drill right there, made in Westchester, Pennsylvania, so there's a made in America story to this, too.

COOPER: Yeah, in fact, we're going to talk to two of the drillers, the best in the world, the guys who actually were drilling on this site, who are American. One of them who was pulled from Afghanistan where he was working to help U.S. forces, there. But again, we are looking at live pictures. We are going to talk to him in the 10:00 hour on 360. You're looking a live pictures as they are preparing this.

Chad, if you're still with me, they are going to have access to oxygen in this capsule. They're also going to have, I understand from reading, a video camera trained on each of the people -- on the persons in the capsule so that if the person panics or begins to panic, they can be able to talk to that person through communication devices which are also in a headset that the person will put on.

MYERS: That's correct. There's oxygen in the bottom. And as I understand it, even though they built three of these things, they will use two of them, alternating, getting the guy out, putting the whole thing out, taking it down, getting that guy out, getting the other one prepped to put another person down. So they will be alternating between the two of them. Haven't seen that happen yet, but we're only looking at the one right there, anyway, we haven't even seen the other one come to the site.

The oxygen is there so that as the person comes up, I mean, literally, you're in a confined space. I know I'm saying that this is pretty big for me because I can get it, but this is clear. This is light. Could you imagine if this -- I mean, this is going to be a dark space, so the camera will be trained on them bringing them up one mile per hour. If something goes wrong, this can go up to about 3-1/2 miles per hour if they really turn on the juice.

If they understand that this guy is in trouble, something's going very wrong, we have to get him out of there, we can't wait 20 minutes for the full ride, let's go. They can look at the man and see what his conditions are, take his vital signs, as well, on the way up and they'll know everything about him as he gets to the top.

COOPER: All right, Chad, we'll be checking in with you and a lot of fold standing by, Chad.

We're joined now about Dennis O'Dell, director of Occupational Health and Safety for United Mine Workers of America. As we keep out this picture, Dennis, we see the capsule in place basically over the hole that has been drilled. You've actually been in one of these capsules, is that correct?


COOPER: What is it like?

O'DELL: Well, I'll tell you, you just, your life is in somebody else's hands. It's almost like you're helpless because you're standing inside of this cage, you can't bend over, you can't move. I mean, you're just wedged in there tight. So, as this is being pulled up out of the mine, you're at the mercy of whoever is running the hoist that's operating the capsule. So you have no -- it's just like, you know, I'm the kind of person that likes to have some control over some things in my life, but this is one of those instances where you have no control whatsoever, you just have to put your faith in God and hope that the operator of the hoist knows what he's doing and everything works out, there's no shifting in the shaft and what have you.

COOPER: That's also one of the things to consider about the life of these 33 miners have lead over the last 68 days. Their lives have been in other people's hands, I mean, even in getting access to water it was all dependent on people sending it down through the very shaft that they had drilled. And I know for a lot of them, that was one of the tough things. There were complaints about, you know, having no control over what's happening to you.

O'DELL: Right. And that's tough because miners usually have some control over what they do. I mean, on their daily activities, when they are working, you know, they know what they're going to do. When you digging the coal, digging iron or gold or whatever it is we're mining, you know, we have a method to the way we work. And in cases like this, on an emergency situations, you lose that control, you just have to put your faith, like I said, in God and those who are doing a rescue and recovery and hopes that, you know, you've had enough training.

Somebody asked me earlier, can you ever be trained well enough for these situations? Well, it's good to have training, but I can tell you from experience, if you've ever been trapped, if you've ever been in fire a situation or a rescue or recovery situation, training is good, but it doesn't always have you well prepared for what you have to face because there's an unknown.

COOPER: Dennis, how concerned are you about the actual shaft that has been drilled, now? You know, what do you know about the condition of the shaft? I know, they put down probes, they put down video images. There was some, I think some cracking, I read, at a certain point in the shaft. How confident are you that it can hold?

O'DELL: Well, you always are optimistic. I was pleased to see that when they did a study of the shaft, when they put the camera down the first time, and when they were trying to decide whether to put tunnel liner inside of it, some of the casing, that they decided to go ahead and do...


COOPER: Tunnel liner is what? Metal to shore up the sides?

O'DELL: Yes. It's just like a metal, yeah, that it fits the same round inside the shaft itself so that it keeps the rock from being able to fall in. Similar to like if you've ever gone through a tunnel under water or New York City, some of the tunnels you go through, those tunnel liners only in a smaller version that you'd have in this hole going underground.

COOPER: Dennis, I got to interrupt. I just got to go to Karl Penhaul because we have a short window on the satellite with him. We'll come back to you.

Karl Penhaul is on the ground, has been really since this thing began, on and off.

Karl, talk about what you're seeing tonight, where you think this operation is, when you think that person is actually going to go down in that shaft.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think we're still maybe a few minutes away from that, Anderson. What we've been seeing over the last few moments is the Phoenix capsule laid out on its side. We've been seeing the rescue technicians looking up the various communications line. It is vital. This rescue capsule has a fully functioning fiber optic cable that gives both a video and an audio signal back to the rescue workers. In fact, on the cage door, we have seen, they're about chest height, there's a wide angle camera there. That will give vision to the rescue workers above to give them some sense of how the ride is going for the miner, how the miners' reacting. So, it's vital that those systems are in place.

They also want an independent fiber optic cable going down to the miners, as well, so the rescue experts that are being sent down there first, can send information back up about what they see down in the mine from their perspective underneath, how they can see the rescue capsule performing. So the really will take all the time that they need to be doing this, then what we have seen, and even now, and you can see on those live pictures that the government is feeding, the Phoenix II capsule is now dangling over the top of that 28-inch diameter rescue hole. And what I expect to see over the next few moments is that they will put the Phoenix capsule in empty, there won't be a rescue worker onboard. Initially they will drop it down maybe halfway, pull it back up again just to check that it's performing, just to check that they have (INAUDIBLE) the communication both with the capsule and down below. And once they are sure of that, then the first rescuer will climb aboard. That rescue capsule will head down more than 2,000 feet under the depths of the earth and then we can say that this rescue mission is on, Anderson.

COOPER: And where are the families watching this from as we watch these live images of this capsule poised right above the hole?

PENHAUL: Well, this area where we are now, is where the families, until now, since August the fifth, when this cave-in occurred, this is where the families have been living, a tent village that they gave the name of "Camp Hope."

Now, this, in the last week, has become mobbed by the media. As you know, the eyes of the world are on this rescue mission - 1,500 journalists, 300 media outlets, from 39 different countries, we are told. And really the families for their own privacy, most have moved from "Camp Hope" to an area of other tents that have been set up by the government beyond the barrier where the press have no access. One or two family members are still around here. But when this rescue mission gets on in earnest, then the three closest family members of each miner will head up the hill, they'll head up to a rest area close to the field hospital and once each miner is pulled out of that hole, one by one, they will go through the field hospital for a couple of hours, check on the vital signs, checking they've got no lung problems and then will come at the time when those family members, the closest family members are reunited with their families. So relatives, here in "Camp Hope" now looking pretty thin. It is pretty much a media throng here, Anderson.

COOPER: OK, and we're showing you the lower portion of your screen, for you watching at home, that is the thing that just went to collar bars actually, those are local people, family members also watching at a nearby town where a lot of folks have gathered.

We got to take a quick break. We're going to bring you all of the latest as we think we are just a few moments away from this capsule being lowered down for the first time.

Up next, we'll also, in addition to Dennis O'Dell is kind of walk us through, narrate us through it as it happens, live. We'll also talk to 360 M.D., Sanjay Gupta and two experts from NASA. And what these men have been through. As you know, NASA was brought in to consult early on in this. What they're going through, tonight. And also, what their state of mind may be in the days ahead. We'll be right back.


COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of the mine rescue. You're looking at final preparations for the rescue mission, wires, fiber optic video connections being hooked up, checked out, into this rescue pod. The pod is in place hovering over the shaft that has been drilled for the last 68 days, 33 miners waiting down below for their final hours in the dark dungeon that they have been living in.

The health of the miners, obviously, a huge concern, it's been since the collapse. We're joined again by Dennis O'Dell, director of Occupational Health and Safety for the United Miners Workers of America.

Dennis, as you look at these live images of what's going on, obviously that is the hole that has been drilled and we think the wires that they've been tightening and fixing, that those are the communication devices, the fiber optic cables. Is that your understanding?

O'DELL: Yeah, that's what it looks like. Part of it's that and there are also...

COOPER: And it looks like they're threading in a long cable right now.

O'DELL: Yeah, that's the communication cable that they are propping in inside. What we call a carrier wire. That's what it looks like, that would carry the communication outside...


COOPER: So that's communication from whom to whom? The people on the ground to whomever is in the capsule or the miners down below?

O'DELL: No, it look is like that's what they are going to use from the surface to the underground area, the connection.

COOPER: And you've got to be pleased that they are going to be sending down as many as five medical personnel and others to assess the condition of the miners before they start pulling them back up. And it looks like they're now brining or trying to get the capsule in position.

O'DELL: Yeah, Anderson, that's one of the things that I've noticed about following this from the beginning on the professionalism, the caution on the side of safety that they've taken. I mean, it's been a really good effort by everybody. I think that they have been very professional and done everything that they possibly can to make this a successful recovery.

COOPER: And Dennis, looking at these pictures, when you see that tight shot again, we don't have control over these images, these are Chilean government pictures, but you see just the tight fit. This capsule is some 21 to 22 inches in diameter; the actual hole it's going into is about 28 inches in diameter, from my understanding. There are some wheels on the side of the capsule that can adjust depending, you know, as it goes down. But it is a very, very tight fit.

O'DELL: Yeah, it is. And, you know, that's one of the things -- the reason they did that is to speed up, actually, the rescue. You know, they knew what size capsule they needed, so they knew what size hole that they had to drill to speed up the rescue, itself, not to prolong it. so, they kept everything tight toothed because the larger hole you have, the bigger problem you would have as far as being able to secure it, this keeps everything kind of a tight fix. Also, the capsule itself, you know, it wouldn't swing back and forth to where it hits on the walls. This will keep it from swaying back and forth, which is real important for a ride that's so lengthy...


COOPER: It's also, and you can tell, it being put in at an angle, I think it's about an 80-degree angle or so. This is not just a straight shot down?

O'DELL: No. And that's the way the drill went because of the strata of the geological strata of the ground, itself. When they drill, it has the tendency to run whichever way the rock itself runs, so that's the way the hole ended up. But, you're not going to get a perfect straight-down hole. And that also helps somewhat, too, in securing the sides itself, to gives is a little bit more stability in some cases.

COOPER: And I asked you this a little bit before, but we had to cut away. How concerned are you about this capsule making multiple trips up and down, you know, not just for the 33 miners, but also for the as many as five men that they may bring down below and also any other test runs? I mean, is this drill -- is the hole that has been drilled, is it secure enough?

O'DELL: Anderson, you always -- you always, you know, you worry about whether the walls can actually withstand that many trips up and down. Our hopes are that is will. They seem to be confident and they did take the extra precautions, like I said earlier, where they had put steel lining inside to secure the areas that they thought were fractured and most susceptible to rock breaking away. So, I think that they have taken the precaution that they need to, they just have to be slow, methodical, not rush it, and just -- you know, you have to have some faith that things will go right.

COOPER: And one of the things -- one of the reasons they're bringing up two of the men that are said to be the healthiest, one is the cameraman of many of the videos that we've been seeing over the last couple of weeks, if this does get stuck, because it's not a straight shot, and if somehow they have to try to work to work to move the capsule along, that's going to be a tough thing to do because, I mean, you can't open those doors, can you, to help push this thing?

O'DELL: No, you can't. I mean, it's too confining. Once it starts down, you're not going to be able to open those doors until it gets all the way down to the bottom and then, you know, vice versa, once it starts back up, you can't open the doors until it gets up to the top.

COOPER: And you believe that...

O'DELL: And I think the reason they choose -- I'm sorry.

COOPER: No, go ahead.

O'DELL: I was just going to say, I think probably the reason they choose the gentleman that they did, is because they seem to be very knowledgeable, they seem to be strong enough that they can give some information. Any time you're involved in a rescue and a recovery situation, much like this or any other mine disaster, you try to gather as much information from somebody that's actually been there. And because these guys have documented so much of what's happened in this past 68, 69 days, they are going to be able to learn how they can treat each one, where they need to go, you know, what to look for. So they're looking at that for knowledge for the rescuers, as well.

COOPER: And this is very exciting. This is the first time we're seeing the capsule going down inside. This is a test, yes, Dennis, do you think? Or the beginning of a test?

O'DELL: Yeah, it's a test. Yeah, they are going to run it down just to get a feel for it. What's going on right now is the hoist operator has to get a feel for cage as it drops down. And when a hoist operator can feel whether he needs to speed it up, slow it down. He actually can sense the rope, how much tension's on the rope, you know, get a feel like that, so they'll run it down and back up so that a hoist operator is comfortable with the manner in which he's going to bring it up and take it down in for the rescue itself.

COOPER: All right. Dennis O'Dell, we'll check in with you as we watch the beginning of this incredible operation. We're joined by two members of the NASA team who actually met with Chilean officials, Albert Holland, a psychologist, and Dr. J.D. Polk, NASA chief of space medicine.

Gentlemen, we appreciate you being with us.

Dr. Holland, how do you characterize the miners' emotional state during this ordeal leading up to the rescue, 68 days underground?

ALBERT HOLLAND, NASA SENIOR OPERATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Leading up to the rescue, their emotional state has been very good, as far as I can determine. When we were down there, they were just switching over their thinking to accepting the fact that they were going to be down there for quite a long period of time and they were handling that very well. They've already shown very good signs of self-organization. So their mood was very good and I think it still remains very positive.

COOPER: Dr. Polk, in terms of physical readjustment, you know, how similar is the miner's experience going to be compared to say, astronauts who returned after months in space?

DR. J.D. POLK, NASA CHIEF OF SPACE MEDICINE: Well, actually, it's more similar than we had even anticipated in some aspects, Anderson. One of the aspects that the Chilean health authorities are guarding against right now is I'm sure Sanjay has alluded to previously, is as these folks are standing in that tube, in the escape pod on the ascent, not unlike a soldier on the parade field, we don't want to have their knees locked for any length of time or their blood pressure will drop. So the Chilean health authorities are making sure that they have a fluid load, including salt tablets and electrolyte solution and garments to help push that blood flow back up into their heart and brain so that they don't get what's called orthostatic hypotension or low blood pressure during that ascent. That's not unlike something that we see on shuttle returns or on Soyuz capsule returns with the astronauts coming back from space.

COOPER: Yes, I understand in addition of wearing a sweater because of the change in temperature they're going to be experiencing from about 80 degrees or 90 degrees that they have been living in, you know, to quite cold temperatures in the night on the surface. They're also wearing basic comprehension socks and I also read some sort of almost a corset in order to help with the blood flow, correct?

POLK: Correct. And those garments add some extra pressure to what the venous capacity in some of your lower extremities to help force that blood from your lower extremities back up into your heart and brain.

COOPER: Dr. Holland, I was really fascinated to read about basically how these guys have organized themselves and some of the advice that NASA gave in terms of creating areas of lightness and dark underground. Explain what the advice was and why that's so important. Why do you need a light area and a dark area?

HOLLAND: Well, first of all, it fits into regularity. And you want them to have a regular day, a normal day as much as possible. You want them to fall in to a regular 24-hour cycle, which is what we have on the top side. Otherwise, down there they can begin free running. Their sleep can get off. They have disrupted sleep/awake cycles. They'll be on different schedules. And so, it really establishes an individual stability as far as your sleep/awake and the rest of your cycles go, as well as the social stability when you have regularity to your days at certain times for medical checks, certain times for prayer and other tasks as well as a light/dark cycle.

COOPER: We should just tell our viewers, the president of Chile is in the image that you're looking at right now, looking at the capsule as it has now been placed into the hole that's been dug. They're going to probably do a test without anyone in the capsule. Here they're slowly beginning to lower it. Again, as Dennis O'Dell told us, the operator has to kind of feel it out, feel the weight of it, get used to what will be a very long operation. We're going to continue to watch all night long.

Dr. Polk, it's also really interesting that, you know, in comparing what the miners have been through to what folks to what astronauts in space go through, I've read from astronauts they talk about the importance of a routine, of having work that they know they have to do and that's something that the miners have been assigned. Each miner they've all been divided up into groups. Each miner has been assigned very separate tasks and very specific schedule to do those tasks.

POLK: Absolutely. And, in fact, it's been very fruitful work. They've had tasks, such as clearing the rock as the drill was entering into the mine and, in fact, you know, borrowing from what Dr. Holland has said before, the miners were literally masters of their own fate in those first 17 days, organizing themselves and securing their own food supply and water supply.

COOPER: I want to tell our viewers, we're looking at live pictures from the nearby town square where people have just erupted. I don't know if we have sound on that. Can you put the sound?


COOPER: Obviously, the town square, very excited people there. They are watching this live, as well as everyone else around the world is watching. It's a live feed that they have put in a big television monitor.

Dr. Albert Holland who's still with us from NASA, a psychologist, Dr. Holland, in terms of what these folks have to look forward to, in terms of readjustment, you know, obviously there's going to be the elation of being out of this dungeon that they have been in. But it is a long journey. It's not something that they can readjust to within a few hours.

HOLLAND: It is. It's a long journey. It's going to start when they pop out of the hole and it's going to go on for months. And it will depend on the individual and the family as to how quickly they are able to, first of all, adjust to all the notoriety and all the attention and the well wishers and managing their fatigue in the initial hours and then later to adjusting to going back to the daily laundry, or life as usual. So, there will be a lot of adjustments, but truly I believe for a great many of these men, this will be one of the finest events that they've experienced in their lives.

COOPER: And these are family members of the miners who are watching. Many of them on cell phones talking to other loved ones, talking about what they have been seeing. They're all looking at television pictures as well.

Dr. Holland, it's interesting for folks that have been separated from their families, the family dynamic often changes. We see this with a lot of our returning service members from Iraq, from Afghanistan that have been away for a long time. Family dynamics change and they kind of now have to change again.

HOLLAND: They do, Anderson. The family has had to adjust and survive without the miner and it's an essential part of their family, and so they've had to pick up tasks they don't normally don't do and make adjustments within the family. And the miners had to make adjustments as well. So they're going to have to come back to some sort of a common understanding and it might be a new normal in which the family members now have new roles. And the miner now has a new role. So nothing is going to be the same. We can guarantee you that.

COOPER: We are watching just extraordinary events unfolding, things we have never witnessed before for men who have been underground longer than anyone else and survived thus far. It is going to be a long night. We're going to continue our coverage all through this night.

This is one exciting moment that we have just seen. The capsule going in now for the first time. A test, we believe the last test before they actually start to put rescue personnel inside those capsules, send them down to the mine, and then the next step is actually bringing up the miners. We're told that the people on the ground there say they believe by the end of tonight, by midnight tonight, we should at least see by the very least one miner brought up.

We are going to bring that to you live. You will want to see that for yourself. I appreciate the folks from NASA, Dr. Holland, Dr. Polk, thank you. We'll check in with you throughout these next hours ahead. A lot more ahead from the scene. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We bring you back live to the scene in Chile. The rescue pod now underground. We believe a test. A rescuer not yet inside, an empty capsule having gone down.

Dennis O'Dell from the United Mine Workers telling us that that's what he anticipated before they actually put in one of the rescue personnel. We believe as many as five rescue personnel will be lowered down one by one down below.

There's a number of things that have to happen before the miners are actually brought back up. Chile's president, the miners' families, they are all there waiting. Karl Penhaul is also at Camp Hope where those families are waiting and have been waiting really from the very beginning of all of this.

Karl, for the rescue personnel that are going down, one of the things that they have to do besides assessing the condition of the miners is instruct the miners in how to use the communication devices and the other devices that are there for them in the escape capsule?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. The first rescuer down there, in fact, is going to be a rescue expert from Chile's state copper mining company Codelco (ph), and he will do exactly that. He will carry out a brief assessment of the miners. He will tell the first of the miners, you are on, you are the first man up. He will strap him in that cage. In fact, what the miners have been doing over the last few hours is building a platform out of rocks that are down there in the tunnel, making a platform about six-foot high. When the Phoenix capsule comes down, it will rest, it will nestle on that top of that six-foot high pile of rocks. The miner will go up one by one and step into that capsule.

The rescue effort will then instruct them in how to use the video and audio compensation (ph) system on the door of the Phoenix capsule. There's a wide-angle camera which will give the rescuers a very good view of how the miner is experiencing his ride back to the survey. But the rescue expert will also instruct the miner on how to use the oxygen mask. He will make sure that he is wearing his safety helmet, and also some dark glasses to protect him from many bright lights and the (INAUDIBLE) that are up there at the extraction points. And also for those miners coming out during daylight hours, dark glasses to protect their (INAUDIBLE) from any sunlight damage.

But what we have been seeing just now is the Phoenix capsule, as you say, being lowered into that 28-inch diameter rescue shaft. It is empty. We're told that it will be lowered down to about 1,860 feet. That is about still 12 feet shy of the end of the rescue shaft. It is a test run. It will be brought back up at that stage, and then it will be loaded we're told with two sacks of sand that together will weigh about as much as a man. It will be lowered back down again into the rescue shaft. Just a test with all these systems performing, they are in no rush to do this and certainly no rush to do it wrong. They want all of the details to be right.

Once they bring it back up with those sacks of sand, they will be taken out of the rescue capsule and at that point, the rescuer will climb on board. Talking to a mining consultant here who's been a part of this rescue operation, he says that he guesses we could see the first rescuer going down into that mine shaft now in about an hour from now, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Karl. We're going to be following it every step of the way. We're going to check in with you. Again, we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


COOPER: It is an extraordinary night unfolding, history unfolding before our eyes. In the right side of our screen, you see workers. The president of Chile waiting to watch the capsule as it is still being lowered down into the ground very close to where the miners are.

On the left side of the screen, we were seeing miners' families. Just a short time ago, we're seeing an area where many of the miners' families are living and watching anxiously as they have been now for many, many weeks throughout the 68 days. Shortly, very soon after this mine disaster occurred, family members started streaming to the areas and they literally been camped out there this entire time.

Nearby now, there's a town of Copiapo, CNN's Patrick Oppman standing there. Patrick, how many people have gathered in the town square where you are?

PATRICK OPPMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it's an extraordinary evening. Just take a look around. Hundreds of people come pouring in on the dark streets of Copiapo, Chile. This is the hometown for many of the miners and they've come into this central plaza, the central town square. They filled up the plaza now, Anderson. And as you look around, they're waving flags yelling "viva mineros," long live the miners. They've come into this town plaza, Anderson, and they said many of them will not leave until they see every miner, all 33 of the miners delivered aboveground safely.

We're only half a mile away from the hospital where the miners will be flown by military helicopters in the wee hours of the morning. Tomorrow morning we expect and that's where they'll spend the next several days having every kind of health checkup imaginable. But you just see right here, Anderson, we're packed inside watching more people come in on all the streets. They connected this plaza. And just more and more people come in here, the excitement is building. There is hope in the air as they hope that these miners will be delivered back to this town where they're from.


OPPMAN: Any other miner, this is a mining town and when they come back to the town, they will be heroes, as you can imagine.

COOPER: Yes, no doubt about it. We saw the square erupting in joy when we saw these first images of the capsule being put into the shaft for this first test which is still under way. We're going to continue our coverage. We're going to take another quick break. We'll have the latest from the scene of the rescue mission.

We'll check in again with our Gary Tuchman. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Well, you are watching history tonight. Never have 33 people been trapped underground for so long and survived. And tonight, we hope that their luck will continue as we watch this capsule being lowered down into very close to where the miners are. Thirty-three of the miners, they've been trapped nearly half a mile underground for 68 days now.

Chile's president is at the rescue scene. He called today the end of a long journey. It is not the end yet, though. There's still many tense hours ahead, things that could go wrong.

Gary Tuchman is at the scene as well. We'll check back with him. Gary, right now, obviously this capsule has been lowered, it's empty. Karl Penhaul reporting that they may put some sandbags in it, bring it back up, lower it down again. But very soon, some rescuers will, as many as five rescuers, will one by one be brought down below. Is that correct, still?

COOPER: Gary Tuchman, can you hear me?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I do hear you now. That is absolutely correct. And one of the things we must mention to you, this is just an incredible and unprecedented drama but in reality, it's not one drama. It's 33 separate dramas and it's going to be happening over 24 to 36-hour period.

Keep in mind this also, on August 5th when this accident happened to these miners, it was 17 days before we knew these men were even alive. They brought down poles (ph) into the mines. Attached to the poles was a letter saying we are all fine, all 33 of us. After 17 days, these families didn't even know their loved ones were alive. All 33 of these men have become heroes in this nation of Chile.

There's a man whose wife gave birth to a baby. There's a man whose wife is about to give to a baby. Another man who's a big Elvis Presley fan, they've been playing Elvis Presley music down there. They youngest is 18. The oldest was 63. The 18-year-old young man, they can't wait to get his mother's cooking again. So these men have become heroes and all of Chile and much of the world is watching these pictures right now, Anderson.

COOPER: One of the young men, Jimmy Sanchez, who actually is the youngest of the miners, 19 years old, wrote a letter to his family and it he said, there are actually 34 of us. He was talking about down in the mine. There are actually 34 of us. He said because God has never left us down here alone.

We'll be back with Gary Tuchman and others. A quick break right now as our live coverage continues.


COOPER: We're bringing you again to the rescue scene, the site in Chile. The moment of truth is approaching when the first rescuer is going to be lowered into the ground and then when the first miners make his journey back above ground. The capsule it looks like has actually just gone back up. It's now back on the ground. That happened during our commercial break. So obviously the experiment now enters the next phase, which is when the person will actually be put into that.

Our coverage continues right now. I'll be on back at 10:00 all the way through midnight. Now let's go to Larry King -- Larry.