13 Oct 2010

Miners continue to be winched to surface in Chile

11:54 pm on 13 October 2010

One by one, the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months continue to be brought to the surface to emotional reunions with their families.

By the time dawn broke in Chile, eight miners had been rescued, hauled up a rescue shaft 625 metres deep in a specially designed capsule. Each ascent takes about 12 minutes.

The miners had been trapped since 5 August in the San Jose mine in the northern Atacama desert.

Officials say the first men being winched up included some of the most psychologically stable and experienced of the miners, in case something went wrong during the first few rescues.

The first miner to emerge, Florencio Avalos, 31, was embraced by his family and cheered by a large crowd when he emerged from the capsule.

The second miner rescued, Mario Sepulveda, brought gifts of quartz -encrusted rock to his rescuers, and was greeted by his wife.

Juan Illanes was the third to reach the surface, the BBC reports, followed by the only non-Chilean, Bolivian Carlos Mamani, who started work only five days before the mine collapsed.

Jimmy Sanchez, at 19 the youngest miner, was the fifth to be brought up. The sixth miner freed was Osman Araya.

The next, Jose Ojeda, was the man whose scribbled note in red ink 17 days after the accident - "All 33 of us are well in the shelter" - told the world the miners were alive, the BBC reports. He was followed by Claudio Yanez.


A technical expert in mines went down first in the capsule to inspect the mine. Two paramedics were subsequently sent down to check on the miners before each is sent to the surface.

State television says it took the first paramedic 17 minutes to descend the 625m rescue shaft and he was hugged by waiting miners.

He helped put Mr Avalos inside the specially made steel capsule, which is equipped with oxygen masks and escape hatches in case it gets stuck on the way back up.

Longer wait for some

The rescue effort is expected to drag out during the next two days, with the last to be rescued shift leader Luis Urzua.

The top of the mine shaft has been reinforced with metal casing to prevent crumbling surface rocks from breaking away during the rescue.

Experts say the rest of the escape shaft was dug through solid rock and will not break up.

During their journey to the surface, the miners wear a "bio-harness" designed for astronauts that monitors their heart rate, breathing, temperature and oxygen consumption.

Ambassador praises miners' solidarity

The Chilean Ambassador to New Zealand has been watching the rescue along with other Chileans at the embassy in Wellington.

Luis Lillo told Checkpoint his government is grateful for all the international help the rescue team has received.

But he says the rescue operation cannot be called a success until the last miner and all rescue personnel are safely above ground.

Mr Lillo says the miners' extraordinary solidarity over the past two months has kept them mentally strong.

Record time below ground

The miners have set a world record for the length of time workers have survived underground after a mining accident.

Each man will have their eyes closed and will be given dark glasses to avoid damaging their eyesight after spending so long in a dimly-lit tunnel.

Chile's mining minister Laurence Golborne says they are being taken to a specially created zone to be medically examined as soon as each arrives at the surface, and will then be under observation at a hospital for two days.

Medics say some of the men are psychologically fragile and may struggle with stress for a long time after their rescue.