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Rediff.com  » News » Trapped in a coalmine for 69 days, they await freedom

Trapped in a coalmine for 69 days, they await freedom

Last updated on: October 12, 2010 11:09 IST

'What the hell took you so long?'

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A single ringing bell and a roar of delight from exhausted rescue workers signalled the moment on October 9, when a 2,067ft shaft broke through to the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped for 69 days.

The miners' first reaction was 'what took you so long'.

"What the hell took you so long?" the Daily Mail quoted the miners saying to the rescuers.

There was jubilation among their families at Camp Hope, the makeshift village near the minehead in the Atacama Desert.

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Image: A frame grab shows trapped miners as a drill bit of the T-130 drilling machine digs a 12-inch (30-cm) guide hole at a garage next to the refuge where 33 miners are trapped
Photographs: Chilean Government/Handout/Reuters
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'We have waited so long for this day'

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"This is the greatest moment of my life. After more than two months, I finally believe my brother will come home safe. Viva Chile! We have waited so long for this day. But we have to wait longer now to see our men. But this is the beginning of the end of this nightmare for us. God be praised," one of the miner's relatives said.

In the hours before the breakthrough, nervous family members, many in tears, gathered around a small television in Camp Hope's canteen to watch live pictures from the minehead. At the moment of breakthrough, rescuers reportedly began jumping up and down in delight, a bell was rung and exhausted relatives collapsed into each other's arms.

"My emotions are overwhelming me. It is like my son has been born again. But I am still nervous. I will only believe this is real when I hold him in my arms," one miner's mother said.


Image: A relative of the 33 miners trapped deep underground in a copper and gold mine is hugged by a policeman after the T 130 drilling machine completed an escape hole for the 33 miners
Photographs: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters
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Nearly 2,050 feet long escape shaft

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Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said rescuers were expecting to evacuate the 33 miners by Wednesday.

He also said that only part of a nearly 2,050 feet long escape shaft will be reinforced.

The rest of it is exposed rock and the rescue team believe that it is strong enough to pull the miners to the surface, the report said.

The mining minister said that work had begun to weld pipes together to line the shaft.

The miners are believed to be in remarkably good health, although some have developed skin infections.

They have reportedly started a regime designed for fighter pilots to prepare them for their ascent to the surface, and would be provided with $450 sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sunlight when they reach the surface.


Image: A relative of the 33 miners trapped deep underground in a copper and gold mine reacts as she shouts slogans after the T 130 drilling machine completed an escape hole for the miners
Photographs: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters
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It could be a slow journey back home

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According to The Telegraph, an US company, Oakley, would be providing the sunglasses to the miners so that their eyes could be protected from ultraviolet rays.

Doctors have warned that sudden exposure to light after such a long period of stay underground could damage their retinas. They would also be given medication to protect against common germs.

Dr Jean Romagnoli, a sports physician who is looking after the miners' physical fitness, said that they would have to perform 20 minutes of aerobic exercise until they are rescued to prevent muscle cramps during the rescue operation.

"Finally, they will have to fast for eight hours before they make the journey up," he added.

The miners would also be closely monitored to check whether they have developed any fungal or skin infection in the humid atmosphere underground, the paper said.


Image: A worker tests a capsule that will be used as part of rescue operations at the camp for the miners' relatives
Photographs: Luis Hidalgo/Reuters
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Miners' ordeal won't be over even after rescue

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The San Jose mine, near Copiapo, collapsed on August 5.

The South American nation celebrated when all 33 men were located 17 days later.

Rescuers have been passing high-energy gels, water and food underground to keep the miners alive.

According to NASA experts, the miners' ordeal won't be over even after the end of the rescue operation, as they might face the greatest challenge of coping with the psychological effects after spending months below ground.

They described it as "astronaut syndrome".


Image: Engineer Ben Morris (Left) of the US and Chilean medical doctor Jean Romagnoli show journalists a gauge that will be used to monitor the vital signs of the trapped miners as they are lifted individually to the surface in a capsule
Photographs: Luis Hidalgo/Reuters
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'They will need help to readjust to society'

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'Like astronauts these men have endured a prolonged period in a small enclosure away from their normal atmosphere but in the miners' case they have not the exhaustive training and preparation,' Dr Polk, who is advising the Chilean authorities, said.

'They are going to have a lot of things thrust at them when they get out, a lot of press attention, dealing with family issues and such things thrust upon them very immediately, they will need help to readjust to society. Some could well suffer from post traumatic stress type disorder,' he added.

NASA, which is responsible for Chile's civilian space, earlier turned down requests for alcohol and cigarettes made by the 33 trapped miners. A NASA doctor, however, agreed to provide them with nicotine patches to get them through their ordeal. 
 
According to a report, some of the miners were dependant on alcohol before becoming trapped and were experiencing withdrawal symptoms weeks after being cut off from the outside world.


Image: Relatives react after the T 130 drilling machine completed an escape hole for the 33 miners
Photographs: Luis Hidalgo/Reuters
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The miners have something else on mind

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Meanwhile, the trapped miners have called in a lawyer to draw up a contract ensuring they will equally profit from the lucrative media deals they expect to secure for sharing the story of their two month survival in the hope that they never have to work again.

They have already rejected requests for interviews and have instead made plans to jointly write a book, The Telegraph reports.

One of the miners wrote to his wife about the details of the discussions between the trapped men.

"We have received offers to be filmed and interviewed by national television. But we didn't accept because we are going to form a foundation and all our daily experiences during our time down here will go into a book and other projects," Yonni Barrios wrote.


Image: Relatives gather as they watch a video of the miners at the camp
Photographs: Luis Hidalgo/Reuters
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Media frenzy over miners' story

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He informed his wife that the men had requested a lawyer visit the San Jose mine and send down the paperwork to make such an agreement legally binding.

"We want to make this legal then everything that will come out from us will be negotiated for the future. If we do this properly we won't have to work for the rest of our lives," he wrote.

Television companies are said to be offering up to 250,000 pounds to each miner for their exclusive story and publicity agents are battling to sign up families, The Telegraph reports.


Image: Mounted policemen keep journalists off the hills surrounding the area where the rescue operation is on
Photographs: Mariana Bazo/Reuters
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