Chilean miners rescue: first men reach the surface


Chilean miners rescue: first men reach the surface
Rory Carroll at San José mine

Florencio Avalos is rescued from the San Jose mine in Chile
Florencio Avalos, the first miner to be rescued, waves after he was winched up from the San José mine in Chile. Photograph: Hugo Infante/AP

The first of the 33 trapped miners in Chile escaped to freedom today in a rescue operation which captivated a watching audience around the world.
Each man emerged to the surface, blinking and grinning, after being winched up a narrow, claustrophobic, 622m shaft in scenes which matched the moon landings for drama. The rest were expected out by tonight.
Church bells tolled in jubilation across Chile as weeks of agonising anticipation gave way to relief and joy that a 69-day ordeal for 33 men and their families – and the country – had finally begun to end. Bystanders cheered and clapped, then broke into a chant of “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!”.
Families gathered at Camp Hope, the improvised settlement above the San José mine in the Atacama desert, wept and embraced.
Florencio Avalos, the first to make the 16-minute ascent, grinned as he hugged rescuers, then President Sebastian Piñera, as his wife, two sons and father looked on. His seven-year-old son, Bairo sobbed, as did Chile’s first lady, Cecilia Morel. Then Avalos, 31, was escorted into a medical triage centre for the first of a battery of tests.
Next up was Mario Sepulveda, 39, who shouted in exhilaration and plopped souvenir rocks into the hands of his rescuers and president. “I’m so happy!” Sepulveda yelled. After embracing his wife he asked: “How’s the dog?”
He was followed by Juan Illanes, 52, a former soldier. He hugged his wife before being wheeled away in a cot. Next up was Carlos Mamani, 23, the lone Bolivian among the miners.
It was the climax to a drama which has gripped Chile and the world since a borehole drilled into the mine on August 22, 17 days after the accident, returned with a note from the men: “The 33 of us in the shelter are well.”
Under the disciplined organisation of their shift leader, Luis Urzua, 54, the men had survived choking, blinding dust and rationed meagre stocks of tinned tuna and peaches into a near-starvation diet.
Supplies were funnelled down the boreholes but authorities said it could take four months to drill a rescue shaft to extract the men. In the event it took half that: a race between three huge drills ended last Saturday when “plan B” reached 622 metres.
By then Camp Hope, the improvised settlement of 300 relatives gathered at the San José mine, had sprouted satellite dishes and rows of tents for the world’s media.
Suspense mounted as the countdown to “zero hour” was brought forward from midnight local time to 6pm. A broiling desert sun had begun to set and shadows stretched across the winch as the capsule, dubbed Phoenix 1, was lowered into the shaft.
Earlier, as the countdown neared, communications between the command centre and the miners was frenetic, with the men calling topside every five minutes with requests that included camera extension cords and flasks of hot water for tea.
Despite sleeping pills, the men had a nervous last night, with many not sleeping until 5am. The first group of 15 selected for the ascent stopped eating at 4pm.
Even before the first miner emerged celebrity beckoned as flags were sent down from fans requesting signatures. The men obliged and added drawings of jack hammers and phrases such as “We will never abandon you”.

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