Emotions flow as freed miners emerge

Chile Mine Rescue: Questions and Answers

It’s been over two months since the 33 Chilean workers were trapped a half mile underground in the San Jose mine. Now their return to the surface of the earth looks like a reality. Here, some answers to questions about the rescue effort.

How did the miners become trapped underground?
On August 5, the northern Chile mine collapsed, trapping all 33 miners inside. What could have been a tragedy has become an amazing tale of survival — in fact, it is the longest underground survival ever recorded.

How long will it take to rescue each miner?
One miner at a time will ride in a 13-foot-long, custom-built, 926-pound capsule. The ride to the top is expected to take 15–30 minutes through a 2,040-foot tunnel.

(The tense trip through the shaft in a specially built metal cage, which was expected to spin nauseatingly, was to take around 20 minutes as it climbed 622 meters (2,041 feet) — nearly the height of two Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other.)

What are the ages of the oldest and youngest miners?
The eldest, Mario Gomez, is 63. While eight miners are in their 20s, the youngest is 19-year-old Jimmy Sandez.

What is the biggest danger in the rescue?
The tunnel has been reinforced with steel to support some areas of the mine walls that showed cracks. The steel is meant to prevent rocks from breaking loose and wedging the capsule in place. This is the greatest risk to the rescue, since the cable-supported capsule has only about two inches of clearance on either side. There is an escape hatch if a miner needs to get out of the capsule.

How are the miners preparing for their exit?
The miners have switched to a high-calorie liquid diet to prevent nausea and taken aspirin to combat high blood pressure. The men will each be equipped with a 90-minute oxygen tank and protective helmets. Miners will wear sunglasses to help adjust to the outside light. The workers will be in contact with the outside engineers by two-way radio headsets.

Who will be the first and last out?
While this plan could change, the first miner expected to be rescued is believed to be Florencio Ávalos, the 31-year-old who served as cameraman for most of the video recordings the world saw. Then the most skilled will go, followed by the sickest. And finally, the strongest will be last. It is expected that the final miner to be pulled up will be the shift foreman, Luiz Urzua, who, according to ABC News, has shown “inspiring leadership throughout the ordeal.”

To hugs, cheers and tears, rescuers using a missile-like escape capsule began pulling 33 men one by one to fresh air and freedom at last early Wednesday, 69 days after they were trapped in a collapsed mine almost a half-mile underground.

Bolivian miner Carlos Mamani celebrates after arriving as the fourth miner to be hoisted to the surface in Copiapo October 13, 2010. Chile's 33 trapped miners are set to travel nearly half a mile through solid rock in a shaft just wider than a man's shoulders on Tuesday night, as their two month ordeal after a cave-in draws to an end.

Five men were pulled out in the first five hours of the apparently problem-free operation in the Chilean desert — a drama that saw the world captivated by the miners’ endurance and unity as officials meticulously prepared their rescue.

Rescued first was Florencio Avalos, who wore sunglasses to protect him from the glare of bright lights. He smiled broadly as he emerged and hugged his sobbing 7-year-old son, Bairon, and wife, then got a bearhug from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera shortly after midnight local time.

A second miner, Mario Sepulveda Espina, was pulled to the surface about an hour later — his shouts heard even before the capsule surfaced. After hugging his wife, Elvira, he jubilantly handed souvenir rocks from his underground prison nearly 2,300 feet (700 meters) below to laughing rescuers.

Then he jumped up and down as if to prove his strength before the medical team took him to a triage unit.

“I think I had extraordinary luck. … I was with God and with the devil — and God took me,” Sepulveda said later in a special interview room set up by the government.

He praised the rescue operation, saying: “It’s incredible that they saved us from 700 meters below.”

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