Video: Chile Lifts First Miners to Freedom


miners[Video below.] The first of 33 gold and copper miners entombed half a mile below ground for more than two months were hauled into the frigid Chilean desert air early Wednesday morning, emerging from a cramped, life-saving haven and into the embrace of family members once forced to confront the likelihood of their deaths.

Foreman Florencio Avalos, 31, was the first of the miners to ride up the shaft that rescuers hope will serve as the lifeline for all. Avalos squeezed into a specially fitted, bullet-shaped capsule only a shade smaller than the 28-inch diameter of the tunnel and was winched to the surface over 14 agonizing minutes.

He stepped from the capsule to an explosion of cheers and patriotic chanting from rescue workers and Chilean officials, though largely shielded from the news media that had gathered from around the world to witness a triumph of human determination over geology.

Amid whistles, raw shouts and tears, Avalos hugged his wife, his weeping 7-year-old son and the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera.

His appearance signaled the start of the final, still-perilous chapter in a 69-day-old drama that began Aug. 5 when an underground collapse at the mine sealed off exits for the men. The miners’ location and fate was unknown for 17 days, until a drill probing for air pockets poked through into a lunchroom where the men were waiting.

Since then, the original despair above and below ground gave way to rejoicing at the discovery, followed by anxiety as drills punched through rock to create a path for the rescue. Patience was further strained by technical delays on the final day, as crews hooked up communications gear and ran more tests on the integrity of the shaft.

But any frustration surrendered to elation when Manuel Gonzalez, a technician, descended and joined the men. Video from thousands of feet underground showed extraordinary scenes of the miners greeting a visitor from the surface.

Gonzalez’s arrival was proof that the trip could be made, but the drama still has time to run. Rescue workers drafted a pecking order for the men’s ascent, and said they hoped to bring them out at a rate of about one an hour, a pace that would have everyone to safety in two days.

But they also cautioned against premature celebration, noting that only the top of the shaft had been lined with metal tubing and that each trip required the capsule to negotiate bends in the crude tunnel.

Pinera arrived at the mine Tuesday afternoon to see the rescue efforts and greet the miners.

“We made a promise to never surrender and we kept it,” the president said.

As relatives huddled around television sets or bonfires waiting for details about when their loved ones were to be hoisted up, aboard the Phoenix rescue capsule, they said they were allowing themselves to feel an enormous sense of relief.

Juan Alcalipe, whose son-in-law, Osma Araya, 30, was among the trapped miners, said he was excited to be so close to the end of a nightmare. Araya, he said, won’t be returning to work at the mine.

“My daughter won’t let him,” Alcalipe said.

After Avalos was ushered to a nearby makeshift clinic for a checkup, shower and change of clothes, another rescuer, Roberto Rios, climbed into the capsule and dropped into the shaft, which was emitting plumes of steam from the sauna-like chamber below.

Ana Maria Sepulveda, sister of Mario Sepulveda, who had been selected as the second to be rescued, said, “The day we have waited for so long has finally arrived.”

Near the rescue site were four red and white portable structures that were to serve as the clinic, where, for the first two hours above ground, the miners are to receive first aid if needed.

Farther up a steep incline, past enormous cranes and other equipment used in the effort, were half a dozen container-like structures where miners are to be reunited with their families.

While strapped in the metal capsule, called the Phoenix, the men wear an oxygen mask, compression socks to prevent blood clots and a belt that continually measures pulse, temperature and respiration. There is two-way communication inside, and a small video camera focuses on the miner’s face. In the event of signs of panic – the biggest concern of rescuers – the extraction will be speeded up.

The miners will not be sedated because they need to be alert in case something goes wrong. But a miner could become claustrophobic and do something that damages the capsule. Or the cable could get hung up. Or the rig that pulls the cable could overheat.

As each miner nears the surface, authorities said, a ” Genesis alarm” was to sound – a wailing siren and flashing light – for a full minute to alert doctors.

Earlier Tuesday, Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said he was not ready to declare “mission accomplished,” despite his confidence in the rescue preparations.

“We are really working as fast as possible to get these miners out,” Golborne said during a televised news conference.

Near the site, relatives held vigil at an area that has become known as Camp Hope.

“Here the tension is higher than down below,” Veronica Ticona, the sister of one of the miners, told the Associated Press. “Down there they are calm.”

Officials said that after the miners leave the clinic, they will be evacuated by helicopter or ambulance to the hospital in Copiapo for two days of observation. The 40-mile road leading from the city to the mine closed at 8 p.m. to make room for a ground evacuation if the skies were too overcast for helicopters. Air force officials said the chopper pilots have night-vision equipment, but Pacific Ocean fog at night often shuts down flying.

The rescue effort is risky simply because no one else has ever tried to extract miners from such depths, Davitt McAteer, a former U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration director, told the Associated Press.

“You can be good and you can be lucky. And they’ve been good and lucky,” McAteer said. “Knock on wood that this luck holds out for the next 33 hours.”

In a test run Monday, engineers lowered the capsule almost all the way down the hole.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich has said that all the miners – 32 Chileans and one Bolivian – were excited about their impending rescue but seemed to be in control of their emotions.

Click below for a video of the emotional rescue of the first miner:

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{Los Angeles Times/}


  1. I feel sorry for Aino Yehudim. All they can do is cheer and clap at such an emotional time. They don’t have a vareme niggun and tantz of Chasdei Hashem Ki Lo Samnu???