Monday 9 December 2019

Trapped miners emerge after 69 days

The first of the Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days have been winched to fresh air and freedom amid cheers from their families and countrymen.

Florencio Avalos, 31, wearing a helmet and sunglasses to protect him from the glare of rescue lights, smiled broadly as he emerged from the missile-like escape capsule and hugged his sobbing seven-year-old son Bairo and his wife. He also embraced Chilean president Sebastian Pinera and other rescuers.

Also on hand was Mr Avalos' other son and father.

After the capsule was pulled out of a manhole-sized opening at the San Jose mine, Mr Avalos emerged as bystanders cheered, clapped and broke into a chant of "Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le!" - the country's name.

Shy Mr Avalos gave a thumbs-up as he was led to an ambulance and a series of medical tests after more than two months deep below the Chilean desert - the longest anyone has ever been trapped underground and survived. Mr Avalos was chosen to be first because he was in the best condition. He has been so shy that he volunteered to handle the camera rescuers sent down so he would not have to appear on the videos that the miners sent up.

Mr Pinera said: "This won't be over until all 33 are out. Hopefully the spirit of these miners will remain forever with us...This country is capable of great things."

Minutes earlier, mine rescue expert Manuel Gonzalez of the state copper company Codelco made the sign of the cross as he was lowered into the shaft to the trapped men - apparently without incident. He was followed by Roberto Ros, a paramedic with the Chilean navy's special forces. Together they will prepare the miners for their rescue - expected to take as many as 36 hours for all to surface.

The second man pulled to freedom was Mario Sepulveda Espina, who climbed out of the capsule jubilantly hugged his wife, President Pinera and rescuers - then handed them pieces of rock from his underground home.

"We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it," Mr Pinera said as he waited to greet the miners, whose endurance and unity captivated the world as Chile meticulously prepared their rescue.

The last miner out has been decided -shift foreman Luis Urzua, whose leadership was credited for helping the men endure 17 days with no outside contact after the collapse. The men made 48 hours' worth of rations last before rescuers reached them with a narrow borehole to send down more food.

PA Media

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