We had given up hope and were ready to starve to death -- miner
A Harrowing picture of despair and hunger unfolded yesterday as one of the Chilean miners gave a graphic description of how the men had given up hope of being found alive , and began to prepare themselves for lingering death by starvation.
However, Yonni Barrios (50) was adamant that the men were not prepared to take their own lives in the days before they were discovered.
"What we always wondered was why hadn't we died, why we were alive," Mr Barrios said as he fought back tears in an interview.
Mr Barrios and his fellow miners were finally hoisted up by a cable from half a mile below the earth's surface last week after more than 69 days inside the collapsed gold and copper mine. He said the men argued about how long help would take to reach them but never came to blows as tensions rose in the hot and humid tunnel shrouded in darkness.
Mr Barrios, who wore sunglasses inside his home in a ramshackle neighbourhood of poorly built houses on the outskirts of the mining town of Copiapo, said he was still struggling to adjust to sunlight, which he said feels like needles being poked into his eyes.
He described poignantly how they survived on dwindling rations of food and water for 17 days until rescuers drilled a tiny hole into the chamber where they had taken refuge. The miners had not been optimistic before contact came.
"Hope was lost. When the perforation drill arrived we were all waiting to die," he said.
The first drill hole, the width of a grapefruit, became an umbilical cord to pass the miners water and packets of nutrition gels. Weeks later rescue crews made a wider hole slightly larger than a man's shoulders and pulled them out.
Barrios, who has been working in Chile's vast mining industry since he was 17, said he and his colleagues did not consider taking their own lives.
"We never thought about that," said Barrios.
"Everybody had accepted that if we weren't rescued we were going to die. And that if we had to die, then we had to die, and that was all that remained," he said.
Mr Barrios, who was the designated doctor while underground to give injections and take blood, became the butt of jokes among the miners because he was known for having more than one woman in his life: an estranged wife and a girlfriend with whom he has lived for more than a decade, along with her children.
At one point, both women appeared near the mouth of the mine, apparently to claim some of the money they thought would be paid out.
He said he was a realist and did not feel relieved until he reached the surface above the mine.