Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 2 August 2015

Chilean miners emerge from darkness

By Guy Adams at the San Jose mine

Published 14/10/2010 | 00:22

Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Miner Mario Gomez gestures after exiting the capsule that brought him to the surface during his rescue from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he had been trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile
Alfonso Avalos, father of trapped miner Florencio Avalos, reacts while watching on a TV screen the rescue operation of his son, the first of 33 miners to be lifted to the surface
Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Chile mine rescue. October 2010
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 13: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, the oldest rescued miner Claudio Mario Gomez, 59, kneels as he becomes the ninth to exit the rescue capsule, on October 13, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5, 2010 collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Scenes from the Chile mine rescue. October 2010
Osman Araya, 29,is hugged by a relative as he becomes the sixth miner to exit the rescue capsule, on October 13, 2010 at the San Jose mine
Carlos Mamani, 23, is stretchered off as he becomes the fourth miner to exit the rescue capsule, on October 13, 2010 at the San Jose mine
Jimmy Sanchez, the fifth miner to be rescued, celebrates after his rescue Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 at San Jose Mine
Florencio Avalos, 31, becomes the first miner to exit the rescue capsule at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 13: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Carlos Mamani, 23, becomes the fourth miner to exit the rescue capsule, on October 13, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5, 2010 collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
Marcelo Vilquinina, nephew of trapped miner Carlos Mamani Solis, yawns as he watches rescue operations on TV from the camp outside the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010. Thirty-three miners became trapped when the gold and copper mine collapsed on Aug. 5. Mamani was the fourth miner to be rescued. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A boy gestures as he watches on TV the rescue operations at the San Jose mine to free 33 trapped miners in Copiapo, Chile, late Tuesday Oct. 12, 2010. Thirty-three miners became trapped when the gold and copper mine collapsed on Aug. 5. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this screen grab taken from video, Carlos Mamani, the fourth miner to be rescued, celebrates after his rescue Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. Mamani had just started working as a heavy-equipment operator at the mine when it it collapsed. (AP Photo)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Mario Sepulveda, 39, is the second miner to exit the rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
In this screen grab taken from video, rescuer Manuel Gonzalez Pavez, second left, speaks to the 33 trapped miners after being lowered into the mine near Copiapo, Chile.(AP Photo)
In this photo released by the Chilean government, Bolivian miner Juan Illanes is carried away on a stretcher after being rescued from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, early Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Hugo Infante, Chilean government)
Rescued miner Juan Andres Illanes Palma, center, third miner to be rescued, salutes at his arrival to the surface from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010.at the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010. Center right is Chile's President Sebastian Pinera.(AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, center, first lady Cecilia Morel, left, and Mining Minister Laurence Goldburn, right, talk to the press after the rescue of the first of 33 trapped miners at the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010.(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
Rescued miner Juan Andres Illanes Palma, third miner to be rescued, salutes at his arrival to the surface from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010.at the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010.(AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
A person holds a sign that reads in Spanish "Strength miners, Chile is with you" with a group of people watching on rescue operations on TV taking place at the San Jose mine to free 33 trapped miners, in Copiapo, Chile, late Tuesday Oct. 12, 2010. Thirty-three miners became trapped when the gold and copper mine collapsed on Aug. 5. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
In this screen grab taken from video, Juan Andres Illanes, the third miner to be rescued, celebrates after his rescue Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. (AP Photo)
In this photo released by the Chilean government, Bolivian miner Juan Illanes is carried away on a stretcher after being rescued from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, early Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Hugo Infante, Chilean government)
In this photo released by the Chilean presidential press office, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, center right, greets the second rescued miner Mario Sepulveda after he was rescued from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, early Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Jose Manuel de la Maza, Chilean presidential press office)
In this screen grab taken from video, Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued, center, is greeted after his rescue Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. (AP Photo)
In this photo released by the Chilean presidential press office, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, right, hugs rescued miner Mario Sepulveda after Sepulveda was rescued from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, early Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Jose Manuel de la Maza, Chilean presidential press office)
In this photo released by the Chilean presidential press office, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, fourth right, applauds while the capsule with the first rescued miner Florencio Avalos comes out from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile, early Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Jose Manuel de la Maza, Chilean presidential press office)
This undated photo released by Diario Atacama, shows miner Florencio Antonio Avalos Silva. According to Maria Silva, Avalos' mother, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera told her that her son will be the first miner to be pulled out of the mine. (AP Photo/Diario Atacama)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Mario Sepulveda (back to camera), 39, the second miner to exit the rescue capsule, is greeted October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Mario Sepulveda, 39, the second miner to exit the rescue capsule, receives a hug October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 13: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout provided by the Chilean government October 13, 2010, Manuel Gonzalez, a rescue specialist from Codelco, stands in the rescue capsule at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. Gonzalez was the first rescue worker to be lowered into the mine. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 13: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout provided by the Chilean government October 13, 2010, Manuel Gonzalez, a rescue specialist from Codelco, stands in the rescue capsule at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. Gonzalez was the first rescue worker to be lowered into the mine. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Mario Sepulveda, 39, is the second miner to exit the rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Mario Sepulveda, 39, is the second miner to exit the rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Mario Sepulveda, 39, the second miner to exit the rescue capsule, shakes hands with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera (R) October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Mario Sepulveda, 39, is the second miner to exit the rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
In this screen grab taken from video, Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued, left, is embraced by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera after his rescue at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. (AP Photo)
In this screen grab taken from video, Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued, center, is greeted after his rescue at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. (AP Photo)
In this screen grab taken from video, Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued, center, is greeted after his rescue at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. (AP Photo)
Chile's President Sebastian Pinera embraces miner Florencio Avalos after he was rescued from the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine where he was trapped with 32 other miners for over two months near Copiapo, Chile.(AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne and rescue chief Andre Sougarrete, right, hold hands as rescue worker Manuel Gonzalez Paves is lowered in the capsule into the mine where miners are trapped to begin the rescue at the San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile.(AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
In this screen grab taken from video, rescuer Manuel Gonzalez Pavez, second left, is greeted by the trapped miners at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile.(AP Photo)
Relatives and friends of trapped miners celebrate while watching on a TV screen the rescue operation of Florencio Avalos at the camp outside the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile.
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and Mining Minister Laurence Golborne stand with the family of Florencio Avalos while waiting for the trapped miner to exit the mine in the rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera (L) and Mining Minister Laurence Golborne shake hands after Roberto Rios, a technical expert arrived at the bottom of the rescue hole October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation has begun bringing up the 33 miners, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
Patricio Sepulveda, a corporal of the police special operations unit, smiles after arriving at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile
In this screen grab taken from video, Mario Sepulveda Espina, the second miner to be rescued, celebrates at San Jose Mine near Copiapo, Chile. (AP Photo)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILI - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera watches the first dry run of the descent of the unmanned rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation could begin bringing up the 33 miners tonight, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
This undated photo released as a courtesy by Diario Atacama, shows miner Mario Sepulveda Espina. According to rescuers Sepulveda will be the second miner to be pulled out of the mine late Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Diario Atacama)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Manuel Gonzalez, a rescue specialist from Codelco, prepares to be the first rescuer lowered into the mine in the unmanned rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation could begin bringing up the 33 miners tonight, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILE - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Manuel Gonzalez, a rescue specialist from Codelco, prepares to be the first rescuer lowered into the mine in the unmanned rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation could begin bringing up the 33 miners tonight, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILI - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera watches the first dry run of the descent of the unmanned rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation could begin bringing up the 33 miners tonight, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE MINE, CHILI - OCTOBER 12: (NO SALES, NO ARCHIVE) In this handout from the Chilean government, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera watches the first dry run of the descent of the unmanned rescue capsule October 12, 2010 at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile. The rescue operation could begin bringing up the 33 miners tonight, 69 days after the August 5th collapse that trapped them half a mile underground. (Photo by Hugo Infante/Chilean Government via Getty Images)
Jaime Manalich, Chile's health minister, has been closely monitoring the miners' mental and physical health (AP)
Chile's mining minister Laurence Golborne stands inside a capsule that will be used to rescue trapped miners (AP)
Drill operator Jeff Hart embraces Elizabeth Segovia, sister of trapped miner Dario Segovia Rojo, at the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile (AP)
Chile's mining minister has said 33 men trapped for more than two months will probably start to be pulled out on Wednesday (AP)
Chile's First Lady Cecilia Morel, right, embraces a relative of a trapped miner outside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile (AP)
Relatives of the trapped miners await further news of their rescue in Chile (AP)
The Plan B drill, one of three drills working in the rescue operation of 33 trapped miner in Chile (AP)
A relative shows on his mobile phone new images of the trapped miners in Copiapo, Chile (AP)
A man carries a Chilean flag during a small ceremony marking 60 days since 33 miners became trapped in Chile (AP)
Workers move a capsule that will be used to rescue trapped miners from the collapsed San Jose mine in Chile (AP)
Trapped miners inside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile (AP)
Trapped miners celebrate Chile's independence bicentennial inside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile (AP)
The camp where the relatives of 33 trapped miners are waiting in Copiapo, Chile
Some of the 33 trapped miners inside the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile (AP)

They were too exhausted to say all that much, but one of the most exuberant men found the energy to sit up in his stretcher and ask his wife an all-important question: "How's the dog?"

One by one, the 33 men who had been trapped almost half a mile below the surface of the San Jose copper mine in the Atacama desert of northern Chile emerged into the fresh air yesterday, in a perfectly executed rescue operation that was cheered by a nation and watched by the entire world.



As each member of "Los 33" stepped out of the Phoenix rescue capsule, cheers rang through Camp Hope, a sprawling hillside encampment where families of the trapped men had been anxiously waiting for the moment when their loved ones would return for almost 70 days.



When the first of the survivors, a shy 31-year-old truck driver called Florencio Avalos, emerged shortly after midnight, a cloud of red, white and blue balloons was released into the freezing night sky. Church bells rang in the camp and across the nation. Some onlookers sobbed, others hugged each other, chanting the name of a proud country: "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!"



On a big screen erected outside the canteen in the centre of the camp, onlookers saw Avalos embrace his wife, Monica, and son, Bairon. Then he bear-hugged the rescue team, along with President Sebastian Pinera, and gave a thumbs up to onlookers as he was stretchered into the medical facility.



An hour later, an exuberant Mario Sepulveda came to the surface, topping off one of the most remarkable survival stories in human history with a piece of pure theatre. He pumped his fist, jumped up and down, shouted "I'm so happy!" waved a flag, and led the crowd in chants of "Long live Chile!" Then he pulled out a yellow bag full of rocks, which he presented to rescuers as "souvenirs" from the mine.



It was Sepulveda who asked about the health of the family's dog. The local papers were already calling him "The Presenter" because of the comic video recordings he'd sent to the surface during the more-than two months when the miners were trapped. Now they have dubbed him "Super Mario".



As the night turned to day, the speed of each rescue, which involves sending the tight-fitting escape capsule down a 26in-wide shaft through more than 600 metres of solid rock, quickened. By 3pm, 18 of the 33 were back on the surface, and rescuers hoped to have the remainder out by this morning.



Many of their first steps of freedom mixed raw human emotion with incongruous flourishes. Jimmy Sanchez, at 19 the youngest of the men, emerged waving the banner of his favourite football team, Universidad de Chile. Claudio Yanez, who had accepted a marriage proposal from his partner, Cristina, during his time underground, ran into his new fiancée's arms and kissed her so vigorously that her hard hat fell off.



The lone foreigner among the men, a Bolivian called Carlos Mamani, stepped out of the Phoenix to see a crowd of workmen waving his nation's flag. After embracing his wife, he pointed to the Chilean flag on his T-shirt and shouted: "Thank you, Chile!"



His words were loaded with significance since Chile and Bolivia are longstanding territorial rivals who do not even have diplomatic relations. In what observers have dubbed "mine diplomacy", Mamani's President, Evo Morales, attended the rescue operation and even gave a press conference with Pinera, his supposed enemy.



The unthinkable odds over which the men have triumphed, surviving the first 17 days of their ordeal on rations of two spoons of tuna, two sips of milk and a cracker every 48 hours, are being widely ascribed to an act of God by their families, who have built Catholic shrines throughout Camp Hope and received a congratulatory message from the Pope yesterday.



Two previously agnostic men have "found religion" during their time underground, attending daily prayer sessions. When the 63-year-old man who helped convert them, Mario Gomez, reached the surface, he hugged his wife, unfurled a Chilean flag, and dropped to his knees in prayer. Omar Reygadas, another of the spiritual leaders among "Los 33" emerged holding a Bible.



But organisers of this well-run operation were at pains to stress that it was too early to begin talking about miracles until all 33 of the miners have been saved, and the last of the rescue workers who bravely descended into the San Jose mine to oversee the operation have also returned to the surface.



From early on during Tuesday night's rescue, they were nonetheless sufficiently confident to abandon a somewhat cautious plan to restrict images of the rescue by covering the main view of the top of the escape hole with a large Chilean flag. They also took the decision to make public a feed of proceedings from inside the mine.



The world was able to watch extraordinary footage of the moment when the Phoenix capsule dropped into the chamber for the first time, carrying a heroic rescue worker, Mario Gonzalez. He smiled convivially, and walked out to greet the bare-chested miners amid applause and handshakes.



"This rescue operation has been so marvellous, so clean, so emotional that there was no reason not to allow the eyes of the world, which have been watching so closely, to see it," said Chile's President, in a speech explaining the decision to screen the footage.



Of course, no one knows what difficulties await the freed men, who are being bused and flown to the Regional Hospital in Copiapo following their release. Their skin conditions and severe dental problems are relatively easy to fix, and for the most part they seem fit, if somewhat pale by Chilean standards. But the psychological scars of incarceration may be slower to heal.



There are signs that they are starting to get to grips with their new-found fame. Speaking to a camera crew in a tented area up the hill from the Plan B rescue shaft, Mario Sepulveda, the only miner to speak publicly during the first hours of the rescue said: "I make a plea to the media to not treat us like artists or show-business figures. I would like you to show me how I am: a miner."



Asked for details of his experiences underground, he added: "I have learned a lot of wonderful lessons about taking the good path in life. For those of you able to call your wives or your husbands, do so... I think I had extraordinary luck. I was with God and with the Devil. And I reached out for God and he won."

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