Chilean miners heading home after medical tests

Chilean miners who were dramatically rescued this week from a collapsed mine where they survived for 69 days are leaving hospital on Friday after undergoing medical tests. The first three miners headed home on Thursday.


REUTERS - Chile’s rescued miners head home on Friday to a hero’s welcome after their miracle survival for two months deep underground, and now yearn to put the psychological trauma of their ordeal behind them.

The first three of the 33 miners were cleared to head home from a hospital late on Thursday, returning to neighbors’ cheers and confetti a day after their rescue from the depths of a collapsed mine.

“This is really incredible. It hasn’t sunk in,” said 52-year-old Juan Illanes amid roaring cheers, still wearing the dark sunglasses he and his fellow miners were given to protect their eyesight as they acclimatize after 69 days underground in a dark tunnel.

He said being trapped after the cave-in had taken him “to the limit.”

The remaining 30 miners were due to head home on Friday after medical tests.

Most of the men are surprisingly healthy considering they were stuck in a wet, hot and dark tunnel for so long.

The miners, who set a world record for survival underground, were finally hoisted to the surface in a metal capsule in a rescue operation that was watched by hundreds of millions of people worldwide and triggered celebrations across the South American nation.

Returned as celebrities

They have returned as celebrities and to job offers, gifts and invitations from Real Madrid and Manchester United to travel to Europe to watch soccer matches.

Avid Elvis Presley fan Edison Pena has even been invited to Graceland, the late Presley’s former home in Memphis, Tennessee.

When the mine caved in, all 33 men were believed to have died in yet another of Latin America’s litany of mining accidents. But rescuers found them 17 days later with a bore hole the width of a grapefruit.

That tiny hole became an umbilical cord used to pass down hydration gels, water and food to keep them alive until a bigger shaft could be bored to bring them up.

In a complex but flawless operation under Chile’s far northern Atacama desert, the miners were hauled out one by one through 2,050 feet (625 meters) of rock in a metal capsule little wider than a man’s shoulders and dubbed “Phoenix” after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes.

It took 24 hours to extract the 33 miners and six rescuers who had gone down the escape shaft to help the men get out.

They are in remarkably good shape considering the ordeal.

One of the miners has pneumonia and was being treated with antibiotics, and others need dental treatment, but none are suffering from serious health problems.

Experts say the most lasting damage could be emotional.

“There should be concern about their psychological adjustment over time, particularly after the joy of the reunion period, which will last for a few days to a few weeks,” said John Fairbank, a psychiatry professor at the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.

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