Rescued...After 69 Days in Hellhole

THISDAY Newspaper

Chile's trapped miners were hoisted to safety in a cramped rescue capsule yesterday, cheering and punching the air as they hugged their families after two months in deep underground, Reuters reported yesterday.

One by one, the miners climbed into the capsule, which is barely wider than a man's shoulders and equipped with a gas mask and escape hatches, and took a roughly 15-minute journey through 2,050 feet (625 meters) of rock to freedom.

Scenes of jubilation erupted every time a new miner arrived at the surface of the San Jose gold and copper mine in Chile's northern Atacama desert. Rescuers were hoping to pull all 33 men to the surface within 36 hours, and possibly even quicker – as nearly all had been pulled out at press time.

While the first to be rescued were in good shape, some have been struggling with illness and are more fragile.
Mario Gomez, at 63 the oldest of the miners, suffers from silicosis and was breathing from an oxygen mask as he reached the surface. He was helped out of the capsule, and immediately dropped to his knees to pray with his yellow hard hat still perched on his head.

Euphoric rescuers, relatives and friends broke into cheers – and tears – as the miners emerged to breathe fresh air for the first time since the mine collapsed on August 5.

"This is a miracle from God," said Alberto Avalos, the uncle of Florencio Avalos, a father of two who was the first to emerge, shortly after midnight.

The miners have spent a record 69 days in the hot, humid bowels of the mine and, for the first 17 days, they were all believed to be dead.

Their story of survival and the extraordinary rescue operation have captured the world's attention.
The operation was executed almost flawlessly through the night and included dramatic live images of miners hugging rescuers in their tunnel deep inside the mine. An estimated 1,500 journalists from around the world were at the mine to report the rescue.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera waited at the mouth of the rescue shaft to greet and hug the men.

Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to be rescued, had everyone laughing when his whoops of joy resounded on the surface even before he arrived. He then stepped out of the capsule, opened up a yellow bag, pulled out souvenir rocks from below and began handing them out to the rescuers and even Pinera.

"I'm so happy!" Sepulveda yelled, grinning, punching his fist in the air and hugging everyone in sight. However, he also sounded a darkly serious note.

"I have been with God and I've been with the devil," he later said in an interview, calling for deep change to protect workers' rights.

The men are wearing T-shirts printed with Psalm 95:4 – "In his hand are the depths of the earth and the mountain peaks belong to him."

Each of them also wore dark glasses to protect their eyes after spending so long in the dimly lit tunnel below.
Like wives on the surface who had their hair and nails done for the occasion, the men looked groomed and clean-shaven.

Rescuers were finally able to deploy the capsule, dubbed "Phoenix" after the mythical bird that rose from its ashes, after drilling a narrow escape shaft down to the miners and reinforcing it with metal casing to prevent rocks from falling and blocking the exit.

Engineers said the final stage of the rescue still has its risks but that the capsule was handling well in the shaft, and they expected a smooth extraction.

Each man's journey to safety takes about 15 minutes. The capsule travels at about 3 feet (1 metre) per second, or a casual walking pace, and can speed to 10 feet (3 meters) per second if the miner being carried gets into trouble.
The miners can communicate with rescue teams using an intercom in the capsule. As they emerge, they are being put under observation at a nearby hospital for two days.

Rescuers originally found the men, miraculously all alive, 17 days after the mine’s collapse with a borehole the width of grapefruit. It then served as an umbilical cord used to pass hydration gels, water and food, as well as letters from their families and soccer videos to keep their spirits up.

Medics say some of the men are psychologically fragile and may struggle with stress for a long time after their rescue.

Pinera ordered an overhaul of Chile's mine safety regulations after the accident.

U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the ongoing rescue of Chile's trapped miners as an inspiration to the world.
"I want to express the hopes of the American people that the miners who are still trapped underground will be returned home safely as soon as possible," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden as rescue efforts continued in northern Chile.

Obama was among millions around the world watching on television on Tuesday night when the first of 33 miners were hoisted to the surface after a two-month ordeal.

Nineteen had been rescued by the time Obama, speaking at a White House event about U.S. college loan programmes, started his comments by paying homage to the rescue operation.

"This rescue is a tribute not only to the determination of the rescue workers and the Chilean government but also the unity and resolve of the Chilean people who have inspired the world," Obama said.

"Let me also commend so many people of good will not only in Chile but also from the United States and around the world who are lending a hand in in this rescue effort," he said.

"From the NASA team that helped design the escape vehicle to American companies that manufacturer and delivered parts of the rescue drill to the American engineer who flew in from Afghanistan to operate the drill," he added.


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