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Miracle miners left in poverty and ill-health

When the 33 Chilean miners were rescued from their desert entombment after 69 days, they were feted as heroes and showered with promises of fame and fortune.

Almost a year after the collapse at the San Jose mine, however, the limelight has acquired a bitter tinge. Almost half the group, suffering health and psychological difficulties and unable to work, are seeking government pensions.

Meanwhile, all but two have launched a f11.4m lawsuit against the State. "It's not true what they say, that we have made lots of money," Mario Sepulveda, one of the group, said. "Many of the miners are not in a good situation, they have lots of difficulties."

At the height of the media frenzy, the men and their families were bombarded by offers of lucrative interview and book deals. But as their fame ebbed, the riches never materialised, they say.

In the nine and a half months since their rescue, the men have received expenses-paid trips around the world. Mr Sepulveda has given speeches in the US and Europe, and watched Manchester United at Old Trafford. Although their hosts paid the bills, the trips made them little money, the men say.

Meanwhile, many have remained unemployed, and are suffering health problems and psychological trauma.

As a result of their conditions, 14 of the group have asked the Government to grant them special pensions. A decision is expected on Friday, the anniversary of the accident.

In the meantime, 31 of the men are each seeking €375,000 in damages from the state agency that regulates mining.

One development that may ease their financial plight is the forthcoming Hollywood film of their story by Mike Medavoy.