herald

Monday 23 October 2017

The adulterer, the footballer, the evangelist and the lovesick teen

THE MEDIC: Johnny Barrios Rojas' rescue was among the most anticipated -- if only to see who would be there to greet him.

No 21 of the men pulled from the collapsed mine, Mr Barrios gained notoriety as the man who had two women at Camp Hope -- his wife of 28 years Marta Salinas, and his mistress of four, Susana Valenzuela.

Ms Salinas apparently knew nothing of the affair until the two women ran into each other amid the tents pitched by family members anxiously holding vigil -- and a very public spat ensued.

Mr Barrio (50), looked around sheepishly as he emerged from the rescue tube that elevated him to the Earth's surface, peering through sunglasses as mining officials in red shirts applauded loudly.

Behind him, smiling widely and waiting for him to notice her stood Ms Valenzuela. When he did not, the round-faced strawberry blonde walked around to face Mr Barrios and gave him a long kiss and hug, weeping into the shoulder of his jumpsuit as he whispered into her ear.

Ms Salinas was nowhere to be seen.

Dubbed "el enfermero" -- the nurse -- Mr Barrios served as the miners' medic during the ordeal.

He reportedly ended all his letters this way: "Get me out of this hole, dead or alive."

THE VETERAN: He had promised her if he got through this alive they would finally have their church wedding -- after three decades, four daughters and seven grandchildren.

So when 63-year-old Mario Gomez emerged, grasped a Chilean flag and dropped to his knees to pray, Lilianett Ramirez was the one who pulled him up from the ground and held him in a long embrace.

The promise of a proper wedding came in the first letter Mr Gomez had ever written to his wife during their 30-year marriage. Scrawled on sheets of notebook paper, the letter was placed in a plastic bag and tied to the end of the drill bit that first broke through to their underground purgatory, along with another miner's message announcing: "We're all OK in the refuge, the 33."

Read on television by President Sebastian Pinera, Mr Gomez's "Dear Lila" letter was filled with faith and determination, and showed the world the miners were holding strong.

A miner since he was 12, Mr Gomez is missing three fingers on his left hand from a mine accident and suffers from silicosis, a lung disease common to miners.

THE ORGANISER: Omar Reygadas became a great-grandfather for the fourth time while trapped underground.

The 56-year-old electrician had survived other mine collapses and was said to have exclaimed "Not again!" when he and the others were trapped by the August 5 collapse.

Mr Reygadas later helped organise life below the surface, calming others when they got nervous.

THE YOUNGSTER: Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest at 19, proposed to his 17-year-old girlfriend while he was trapped below, though his father urged him to reconsider. The couple have a four-month-old daughter.

"You are just 19, and have so much life ahead of you, to enjoy, to know people," read the letter Eugenio Sanchez sent to his son. "It cannot be that because you are now closed up in the mine that you are going to throw away all your plans.

"It's fine that you want to be with Helencita and everything... but get married? Well, marriage is a really serious thing."

But girlfriend Helen Avalos said she was sure they would be wed. "He has to keep his word," she said.

THE EVANGELIST: Jose Henriquez turned to his Christian faith while he was underground, forming a prayer group that met several times a day and asking to have 33 bibles sent down the narrow supply passage.

Nevertheless, the 56-year-old father of twin daughters had one vice he hoped the time underground would cure.

Mr Herniquez' wife Hettiz Berrios was said to be happy when her husband asked authorities to send him food rather than cigarettes. "He's trying to stop puffing. ... Hopefully he'll do it," she said.

THE FOOTBALLER: Former Chilean national soccer player Franklin Lobos has never seen a bigger victory.

Mr Lobos (53), briefly bounced a football on his foot and knee as he stepped from the capsule that carried him from the mine. Then he embraced relatives and President Pinera.

He is the only rescued man whose name was widely known in Chile before the disaster. He played for the Chilean team that qualified for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

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