On August 5th, 700,000 tons of rock collapsed in a gold and silver mine in Chile, trapping 33 miners who were fortunately able to reach a safe area. The first of those men was pulled to freedom to the joy and cheers of family and the world shortly after midnight, Chilean time. After being entombed for 69 days half a mile under the Chilean desert (think two Empire State Buildings atop each other), the last of the miners was rescued at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Chilean time, ending a miraculous rescue watched by the world. Each miner was also greeted by Chile’s president, Sebastian Pinera.
Before the rescue, a mine-rescue expert and a paramedic were sent down in the capsule to evaluate the miners, who all wore helmets and sunglasses when they came out. The miners were put on a high-calorie liquid diet prepared by NASA in the days before the rescue, designed to prevent vomiting on the rotating trip to safety.
Florencio Avalos, 31, was chosen to be first because he was in the best health and doctors would be able to troubleshoot possible malfunctions in the dangerous ascent. As I watched his 7-year-old son Bairon sobbing and hugging his father this morning, I was overcome with emotion. Horns blared and cheers rang out as the capsule reached the surface. Avalos hugged his wife and two sons, then President Pinera, and gave a thumbs up before being whisked away in an ambulance for medical checks. It was a scene that would be repeated 32 more times that day.
After Avalos emerged apparently unscathed, the weaker miners and those with medical problems were brought up. About 10 miners had hypertension, diabetes, dental and respiratory infections, and skin lesions from the mine’s humidity. The last rescued were “people who are both physically fit and strong of character.”
The last miner rescued, shift foreman Luis Urzua, 54, the leader of the group, emerged from the escape capsule to wild shouts and cheers. Urzua had insisted on being the last man out. Urzua had assumed command and control after the cave-in, and is credited with keeping the group alive the first 17 days before rescuers located them and started sending supplies.
The second miner rescued was Mario Sepulveda, a bear of a man, who bounded out of the capsule and, jumping and down and pumping his fists in the air like a WWE wrestler revving up the crowd, he led the onlookers in a rousing chant for Chile. He handed out rocks as joke souvenirs to his rescuers, and as he was taken away in a stretcher, he asked his wife, “How’s the dog?” His picture appeared in the front page of the Chilean newspaper Las Ultimas Noticias under the headline “Super Mario.”
Many touching, and scandalous, personal stories surrounded the rescue. Ariel Ticona, 29, will have a new baby girl to greet when he gets home, named Esperanza (Spanish for hope), who was born on the 40th day after his entrapment. He watched the birth by video. Pedro Cortez‘s daughter brought balloons of the Chilean flag that she distributed amongst the crowd. When her 25-year-old father emerged and took her in his arms, the crowd released the balloons into the night sky. Raul Busto, 40, had only been working at the mine for two months, and had never gone inside until the day of the collapse, when he went down to repair a truck.
Richard Villarroel, 27, might have some ‘splaining to do to his mother — he never told her that he was working at a mine. Franklin Lobos, 53, is a former Chilean national soccer star-turned-miner. President Pinera told him “You have won the toughest match of your life.” Lobos said that he and Jorge Hernan Galleguillos Orellana were driving a truck inside the mine when they slowed down to look at a small white butterfly. Just then, the rocks began to cave in ahead of them. The men credit the butterfly with saving their lives. (Hey, always stop and smell the roses, or the butterflies as it may be.) Claudio Acuna celebrated his 34th birthday and his girlfriend finally accepted his marriage proposal while he was in the mine.
Edison Pena led his fellow trapped miners in Elvis sing-alongs to pass the time while underground. Elvis Presley Enterprises has extended to him a special invitation to visit Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis. Miner Pablo Rojas, 45, was trapped underground with his two cousins, Victor Segovia and Esteban Rojas. He and his wife of 25 years plan to renew their vows, in a church this time.
And then there’s Yonni Barrios Rojas, who was nicknamed “House” after the TV-doctor, because he was able to use knowledge he gained from looking after his diabetic mother help medical teams on the surface diagnose and help the men trapped with him. But that’s not his only claim to fame. Yonni is the miner whose wife discovered that she was not the only woman standing vigil for him at the mine — so was his mistress. After Yonni asked that both women be there when he came up, his wife declined to attend.
Yonni Barrios Rojas is evidently not the only miner who will emerge to complicated domestic situations. Carlos Barrios (no relation) has a five-year-old son with a woman he has not divorced and his girlfriend of seven months is pregnant. And another miner has four women waiting for him — an undivorced wife, a live-in girlfriend, a woman who claims to have had his son and another who says she is having an affair with him. I am sure these women all think these guys are gold mines (no pun intended) waiting to happen.
Considering that rescuers at first said it could be Christmas before the men could be rescued, this rescue is indeed a miracle. It went seamlessly. Let’s all celebrate their safe return to the world.
Related content: Profile of All 33 Miners; Sources: CNN; Philly.com; Newsblogs.cnn; www.dailymail