Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Freedom: First Chile miners rescued

Miner Mario Sepulveda celebrates after being rescued from the collapsed mine in Chile (AP)
The rescue capsule is positioned at the San Jose Mine, Chile (AP)
Alfonso Avalos, right, father of trapped miner Florencio Avalos embraces a relative (AP)

Miners trapped for more than two months deep underground in northern Chile have been greeted with hugs, cheers and tears as they are pulled to the surface one by one.

First out was Florencio Avalos, who wore sunglasses to protect him from the glare of the bright rescue lights. He smiled broadly as he emerged and hugged his sobbing seven-year-old son, Bairon, and wife, then got a bear-hug from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

One by one, his 32 colleagues have been making their way to freedom. When the last man surfaces, it will end a national crisis that began when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed on August 5, sealing the men in the lower reaches of the mine.

Each ride up the shaft is taking about 20 minutes and authorities expect they can haul up one miner an hour.

The freed miners are being ushered through an inflatable tunnel to an ambulance for a trip to a nearby triage station for a medical check. They are then gathering with a few relatives in an area closed to the media, before being taken by helicopter to a hospital.

After the first capsule came out of the manhole-sized opening, Mr Avalos emerged as bystanders cheered, clapped and broke into a chant of "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!" - and there were scenes of anticipation and joy as families waited for the rest of the miners to surface.

Mario Sepulveda Espina, the second miner to be freed, jubilantly handed souvenir rocks from his underground prison nearly 2,300ft below to laughing rescuers. The youngest miner, 19-year-old Jimmy Sanchez, was the fifth to reach the surface and the oldest of the trapped men, 63-year-old Mario Gomez, dropped to his knees in gratitude after becoming the ninth miner rescued.

The last miner out has been decided - shift foreman Luis Urzua, whose leadership was credited for helping the men endure 17 days with no outside contact after the collapse. The men made 48 hours of rations last before rescuers reached them with a narrow borehole to send down more food.

As he waited to greet the emerging miners, Mr Pinera said: "This won't be over until all 33 are out. Hopefully the spirit of these miners will remain forever with us...This country is capable of great things."

He added: "We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it."

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