Rescues have got underway for the 33 workers trapped for more than two months in Chile's San Jose mine, the first of whom reached the surface at 5:10 a.m. on Wednesday in a specially-made rescue capsule, to cheers and tears of joy.
Rescued first from the mine, near the city of Copiapo, on Wednesday morning was Florencio Avalos, who wore a helmet and sunglasses to protect him from the glare of bright lights after two months spent in dim lighting underground. He smiled broadly as he emerged to cheers and hugged his sobbing 7-year-old son, Bairon, and wife.
As the capsule came out of the manhole-sized opening for the first time, and Avalos stepped out, bystanders clapped and broke into a chant of ”Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!'' - the country's name.
Avalos looked, according to FRANCE 24’s special correspondent in Chile, Alexis Masciarelli, "clearly in very good shape."
A second miner, Mario Sepulveda Espina, was pulled to the surface about an hour later. After hugging his wife, Elvira, he jubilantly handed souvenir rocks to laughing rescuers.
Juan Illanes, 52, the third to be pulled out using the missile-like escape capsule, urged his fellow miners to be disciplined and organised while stuck half a mile underground.
He embraced his wife and then, beaming, was wheeled away for medical testing.
Carlos Mamani, the lone Bolivian among the 33 men trapped underground for 69 days was the fourth miner to be rescued. He told reporters on site that everyone at the mine knew it was dangerously overworked.
According to Masciarelli, all of the rescued miners will spend two days in a hospital for both medical and psychological examinations to see "how ready they will be to go back into the real world" after the trauma they have been through.
After that they will, as Mascarielli said, "start their new life as national heroes", facing intense media attention.
The rescue mission
Rescuers on Monday successfully tested a capsule, dubbed “Phoenix” after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes, after reinforcing part of the narrow escape shaft with metal casing to prevent rocks falling and blocking the exit.
Engineers say the final stage of the rescue is not without risk, but that the capsule managed well in the shaft on test runs. They expected a smooth extraction of the miners.
If all goes according to plan, each man’s journey to safety takes about 15 minutes. The miners can communicate with rescue teams via an intercom in the capsule.
They have been told to keep their eyes closed and have been given dark glasses to avoid damaging their eyesight after so long underground.
Rescuers originally found the men, miraculously all alive, 17 days after the mine’s collapse with a bore hole 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.
The men have set a world record for the length of time workers have survived underground after a mining accident, and have been doing exercises to keep their weight down for their ascent.
Date created : 2010-10-13