Saturday 20 January 2018

Freedom: First Chile miners rescued

To hugs, cheers and tears, rescuers have begun pulling 33 men one by one to fresh air and freedom, 69 days after they were trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine almost half a mile underground.

The first to be rescued, Florencio Avalos, 31, wearing a helmet and sunglasses to protect him from the glare of rescue lights, emerged to hug his sobbing seven-year-old son Bairo and his wife before Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and other rescuers.

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."

The miners are being ushered through an inflatable tunnel, like those used in sports stadiums, to an ambulance for a trip of several hundred yards to a triage station for a medical check. They are gathering with a few relatives in an area also closed to the media, before being taken by helicopter to a hospital.

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

The second miner, Mario Sepulveda Espina, climbed out of the capsule and jubilantly hugged his wife, President Pinera and rescuers - then handed them pieces of rock from his underground home. Relatives looked on as more miners reached the surface - including lone Bolivian Carlos Mamani, who shouted "Gracias, Chile!" after stepping out into the fresh air, and the youngest miner, 19-year-old Jimmy Sanchez.

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 of rations last before rescuers reached them with a narrow borehole to send down more food.

Paramedics can change the order of rescue based on a brief medical check once they are in the mine. First out will be those best able to handle any difficulties and tell their comrades what to expect. Then, the weakest and the ill - in this case, about 10 suffer from hypertension, diabetes, dental and respiratory infections and skin lesions from the mine's oppressive humidity. The last should be people who are both physically fit and strong of character.

Each ride up the shaft is expected to take about 20 minutes and authorities expect they can haul up one miner an hour. When the last man surfaces, it promises to end a national crisis that began when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed on August 5, sealing the miners into the lower reaches of the mine.

Chile has taken extensive precautions to ensure the miners' privacy, using a screen to block the top of the shaft from thousands of journalists at the scene. The only media allowed to record the men coming out of the shaft are a government photographer and Chile's state TV channel, whose live broadcast has been delayed by 30 seconds or more to prevent the release of anything unexpected.

© Press Association

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