herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

Miners leave hospital to welcome fit for heroes

Chile's rescued miners arrived home as heroes after a 69-day ordeal deep underground during which they drank oil-contaminated water and set off explosives in a desperate bid to alert rescuers.

All but two of the 33 men left the hospital, returning to neighbours' cheers after their stunning rescue on Wednesday from the collapsed mine in Chile's remote northern desert.

Few details of the horror of their ordeal have emerged. But Victor Segovia, known as the writer in the group who has already recorded some of the experience on paper, described it as a living nightmare.

"The good thing about being free is that when you have a bad dream you wake up and realise it was a dream. But inside (the mine), we would wake up in the nightmare," he said.

The miners have became global media stars since their widely watched rescue and have been showered with job offers and gifts, including invitations to visit the Greek isles and Graceland and attend European soccer matches.

Ariel Ticona (29), whose third child, Esperanza or Hope, was born while he was trapped below, was showered with confetti as he arrived home to jubilant cheers from family and friends.

The men have declined to comment when asked to describe the hardest situations they faced during their ordeal. Some relatives have hinted at a pact of silence among the men over the worst of the trauma.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has challenged the men to a friendly football match later this month after the first wave of festivities.

Edison Pena (34), an athlete who ran six miles a day through the mine's tunnels to cope with stress after the collapse, said he had not expected to see his home again.



Collapse

"I didn't think I'd make it back, so this reception really blows my mind," he said.

The men burned tires in the first days after the collapse, hoping the smoke would reach the surface and alert rescuers, and set off explosives in an effort to be heard.

When their reserves of bottled water dwindled to 10 litres, the men began drinking from metal drums of water tainted with motor oil.

While Chile celebrated, there was a grim reminder of the risks taken by miners around the world.

A coal mine blast in China killed 20 and trapped more than 30 workers underground.

China's mining industry is the most dangerous in the world. More than 2,600 people died in accidents last year.

In Ecuador, meanwhile, four men are trapped 490ft underground after a tunnel collapsed in a gold mine. Rescueworkers are digging out the main tunnel while others are preparing to possibly dig a hole from the side to reach the gallery where the men are believed to be trapped.

And in Colombia, one miner died in an explosion and a second when a rock fell on him, in two separate mines in the country's central and western regions.

hnews@herald.ie

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