33 Miners Rescued in Chile after 69 Days Underground

33 Miners have been trapped underground for more than two months in northern Chile. Today, they were lifted out of the shaft by a small, claustrophobic capsule raising them to the surface. The miners were greeted by President Sebastian Pinera and then taken to a triage centre for health checks. The operation ran smoother and quicker than anyone had ever anticipated. Health Minister Jaime Manalich had said that if working conditions stayed the same, the rescue should be completed in one-and-a-half days. The men have been trapped underground since August 5, when a rockfall caused a tunnel to collapse.

Doctors said the miners could suffer nausea and heart palpitations and were concerned about the risk of blood clotting and heart attacks. Aspirin had been sent down to the men earlier Tuesday to thin their blood. “The spinning they were worried about – where the men would get nauseous and have heart palpitations – that doesn’t seem to have happened,” Connie Watson of CBC News said from Chile.

The rescue operation began shortly after 2315 local time with a technical expert, Manuel Gonzalez, being lowered down the 524 metre rescue shaft. Mr. Gonzalez was then supposed to return to the surface. However, a live video feed from the refuge where the miners were gathered showed Mr. Avalos, 31, preparing to be winched up immediately, at 0010 local time. It took only 16 minutes to lift him out of the San Jose gold and copper mine.

A minute after the “Phoenix” capsule reached the top of the rescue shaft, Mr. Avalos stepped out and was greeted by his family, rescuers and the president and the First Lady, Cecillia Morel. Bystanders cheered and clapped, and then started cheering “Chile”.  He then flopped down on a white couch, exhausted.

“His seven-year-old son and his wife were waiting beside the rescue capsule,” Watson said.  “Before it got there the son was just sobbing and sobbing, and that had almost everyone else feeling the same.” Avalos often acted as a cameraman after officials sent cameras down a tunnel. “He looked in really good shape,” Watson said early Wednesday morning. “It was the start of what’s been a very successful process.”

His wife, Monica, said that she and her husband are religious, and she called the rescue a miracle. “This rescue was so difficult, it’s a grand miracle,” she said. “He has so much experience in this mine, and he was a leader, like a pastor with his sheep.” (Washington Post)

Mario Sepulveda Espina, 39, brought a bag of stones from the mine as souvenirs. He ran towards a group of rescuers and led them in song. Espina told a Chilean television station the ordeal was the hardest thing he has ever faced in his life but his faith got him through it. “I was with God, and I was with the devil,” he said through a translator. “But God won, I held onto God’s hand, the best hand, and at no point in time… did I doubt that God would get me out of there.” (CBC) Sepulveda cracked jokes and led the crowd in a cheer for Chile. As he was hauled away on a stretcher for medical evaluation, he asked his wife, “How’s the dog?” (CNN) Later, sitting beside family members, Sepulveda pushed for better work conditions in Chile’s mines, but also said he wants to keep working. “Things can’t stay the way they’ve been,” he said. “Many changes must be made.” (CNN)

“We always knew that we would be rescued,” Sepulveda said shortly after he emerged. “We never lost faith.” After he stepped out of the capsule, the ebullient Sepulveda led those gathered at the surface in a rousing cheer, earning him the nickname “Super Mario” in Chilean newspapers.

Juan Ilianes, 51, a former soldier who urged his fellow miners to be disciplined and organized while trapped.

The only non-Chilean was Bolivian Carlos Mamani, 23. Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke to Mr. Mamani at the triage centre. His family back home was restrained in their emotions for much of the morning while watching the rescue on TV. But they jumped up and clapped when they saw him kneel on the ground.

“I would like to thank the Chilean people, thank you very much for rescuing our brother, Carlos Mamami,” Mr. Morales said. “Bolivia will never forget, this is a historical moment, and this unites us more every day. These events are fostering greater trust between Bolivia and Chile.” (New York Times)

Jimmy Sanchez, 19, was the youngest miner. He had only been working at the mine for five months and had been showing signs of anxiety. Sanchez works as an environmental assistant, and is the father of a four-month-old daughter. He says that thinking about her daughter helped him get through the ordeal. Sanchez was not only afraid of the dark but also claustrophobic.

Osman Aray, 30, had a hugely emotional reunion with his wife.

Jose Ojeda, 46, whose scribbled note – which read “All 33 of us are safe in the shelter” – informed the world the miners were still alive, 17 days after the rockfall that trapped them.

Claudio Yanez, 34, was met by his partner of 11 years, Christina Nunez. During the ordeal, they had agreed to marry.

Mario Gomez, 63, was the oldest miner, who sent up a letter shortly after the miners were found to be alive, expressing his love for his family and saying that the mining company “has got to modernize.” (BBC News) Gomez had worked as a miner since he was 12 years old. He was said to have been the spiritual leader inside the mine. Gomez had contracted lung disease during his career and lost three fingers in a previous mining accident. He had planned to retire but went back down in the mine August 5 to test drive a new truck. Gomez, a man who used to tell his wife to quit bugging him to say daily prayers, dropped to his knees to praise God. At that moment, she knew how lucky she was to have him returned to her. To say there were 33 trapped in the mine is wrong, his wife said. There were 33 men – and God.

Alex Vega, 31, was met by his wife Jessica Saigado, who said earlier that she had eased his fears over debts by telling him that she had cleared them.

Jorge Gallieguillos, 36, said the journey to the surface was very smooth; “The only thing I wanted was to reach the top,” he told President Pinera at the triage centre. (BBC)

Edison Pena, 34, who became known as “the runner” because he ran up to 5 km a day through the mine tunnels to keep himself fit, even in the 30-35C heat. An Elvis fanatic, who led the trapped miners in sing-alongs, looked fit and exuberant. He waved and shook hands and hugged colleagues, loved ones and dignitaries. “Thank God we’re alive,” Mr. Pena said. “I know now why we’re alive.” (New York Times)

Carlos Barrios, 27, reached the surface shortly before 1000 local time. Barrios was a part-time miner and part-time taxi driver. On the day of the collapse, Barrios did not want to go to work because he had a premonition of the disaster, with dreams of rocks falling, according to family members.

Victor Zamora, 33, was not a miner, but a driver who had gone underground to repair a vehicle and was trapped by the rockfall.

Victor Segovia, 48, was welcomed “back to life” by President Pinera.

Daniel Herrera, 27, was embraced by his crying mother as he freed himself from the safety harness. When he reached the surface, Herrera removed his helmet, but left on the sunglasses that the miners were wearing to protect their eyes from the sun they haven’t seen in 69 days. He waved at the rescue crew and embraced his family members before being placed on a stretcher and whisked away to the medical triage.

Esteban Rojas, 44, was rescued at 1349 Eastern Time. He has been married with his partner for 25 years; they have 3 children and two grandchildren, but they never got married in a church. While trapped in the mine, he asked his wife to renew their vows in a real church ceremony. “I’ve tried to hint at it many times but it never happened… He said that he would ask me when the time was best.” (Jessica Gagnez, Esteban’s wife)

Pablo Rojas, 45, is Esteban’s younger relative who had been working at the mine for less than six months. He has been married for 21 years and has one son. While in the mine, Pablo presented the national flag that was signed by the miners to the president. When Pablo surfaced from the mine, his son could no longer wait and went over to tap his shoulder as if to say “I’m here.”

Dario Segovia, 48, is a drill operator and carrier-pigeon handler who comes from a family of miners. His father, who first took him down to the mines when he was 8 years old, was also once stuck in a mine for a week. His sister Maria led prayers at Camp Hope while he was underground. She was also the one who family members went to for information. When Segovia surfaced, Maria took a picture of the capsule before greeting her brother. August 5 was not even his shift; he had taken overtime hours and he wasn’t even scheduled to work in the mine that day. “The mine was weeping a lot,” he told his sister from underground, and that’s the word that miners use when there are fallen rocks. (CBC News)

Yonni Barrios, 50, was known as “Dr. House” to the other miners – he has first aid training and was taking blood samples and administrating drugs to the other miners. His mistress greeted him when he surfaced to the ground. His wife had said that she would not be at the surfacing. While trapped, his wife had learned that he has a mistress during this ordeal. “Barrios is my husband and he loves me; I am his beloved wife. This woman has no legitimacy.” (Barrios’ wife, CBC News) There had been harsh words from the media to this man saying, “Maybe it would be better if he stayed down there.” Barrios and his mistresses’ greeting was an emotional one; he appeared nervous when he first saw her, but she immediately wrapped her arms around him without hesitation. He had been working in the mines since he was 16 years old and went to nursing in the 1990’s.

Samuel Avalos, 43, is a father of three. He was assigned to monitor air quality and gas levels and sent the reports to the surface. Avalos had only been working in the mine for five months. As Avalos surfaced with smiles and laughter he greeted his wife and the president, who returned shortly before Avalos surfaced. He had been working as a street vendor before finding work in the mine five months before the collapse.

Carlos Bugueno, 27, oversees supplied packaged. He was trapped with his childhood friend, Pedro Cortez, who will be rescued third from last.

Jose Henriquez, 54, was a drill master. He has worked in the mines for 33 years. Before the explosion, he warned that something would be wrong with the mine. He was a spiritual man who led daily prayers and also loved music, playing the accordion and the guitar. He has been married for 33 years.

Renan Avalos, 29, the brother of the first man who made it out alive. He was the cameraman for a lot of the process in the mine, taping what the miners were seeing while they were down there.

Claudio Acuna, 56, was the 27th miner to be rescued from the mine.

Franklin Lobos, 53, a retired professional soccer player, kicked a occer ball given to him after he emerged from the capsule.

Juan Aguilar was the 29 miner to be rescued from the mine.

Raul Buston, 40, endured the earthquake earlier this year, where he worked at the Navy ship yards which was destroyed by the tsunami wave that hit the port there. The port was literally destroyed, as well as the ship yards. Bustos decided to quit the navy ship yards and decided to work in the mine. He was a hydraulic mechanic – he was working with one of the hydraulic systems when the shaft collapsed.

Pedro Cortez, 24, was the 31st to be rescued from the mine.

Ariel Ticona, 29, reunited with his wife at 2036 ET. His third daughter was born while he was down in the mine. He was able to watch a video in the mine of his daughter being born. This was the first birth that he could witness.

The last to come out was Luis Alberto Urzua, 54. Like the captain of a sinking ship, the shift supervisor volunteered to stay behind until all his men were safe. Speaking by the phone from the mine Tuesday morning, Urzua reflected on the saga, carefully choosing his words to describe what it was like for such a large group to be imprisoned in such tight quarters for so long. “This was a group with different personalities and manners of being,” he said. “We have had a stage here in our lives that we never planned for. I hope to never live again like this, but that’s the life of a miner.” (Washington Post)

Taking charge after the collapse, Urzua rationed food, giving each miner one spoonful of tuna every 48 hours during their first 17 days trapped underground. He also kept order, something that NASA specialists who have been monitoring the crisis say was vital to keeping up morale and preventing discord.

As Urzua emerged from the mine, crowds waited with applause and anticipation as the world watched on the edge of their seats. As the capsule approached, it was like a New Years Eve countdown as the cheers continued. Almost twenty-two hours to the minute when the rescue mission started, Luis Urzua emerged from the capsule. Whistles, sirens, applause and horns welcomed Urzua as he was draped with a Chilean flag signed by all of the miners.

“We are a family, and the world became a family because of this operation,” the President told Urzua. (CTV News) Urzua urged to the President that things like this should not happen again. The President expressed his pride for Urzua and his crew, and all of the optimism that they felt.

The group gathered joined in the singing of the Chilean national anthem while the flag was raised before them.

The miners are being closely monitored from the moment they step in the capsule. They had been given a high-protein liquid diet donated by NASA, designed to keep them from vomiting as the capsule rotates. A video camera is in the capsule is used to monitor for panic attacks. The miner uses an oxygen mask and has two-way voice communication.

The men also wear sweaters because of the shift in climate from about 30 C underground to near freezing on the surface after nightfall.

After medical checks and visits with family members selected by the miners, the men will be flown to hospital in Copiapo, a 10-minute ride away. Two hospital floors were prepared for giving the miners physical and psychological exams, and the men will be kept under observation in a ward as dark as a movie theatre.

Most of the men are in great condition health-wise. One of them has pneumonia, and seven men will undergo dental surgery because of serious infections. Mario Gomez, who is suffering from pneumonia, will undergo special health care in the next few days.

I would like to close with a Scripture that has been going through my head throughout the entire day. Many of the miner’s stories reflect this verse and I wanted to leave you with this final verse of hope and encouragement. God really does still do miracles today, and he takes care of his children even when it seems like we are in the deepest point in our lives. Psalm 40:2 says, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Praise be to God!


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