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Chile miners: Rescue underway; rescuer begins descent

October 12, 2010 |  7:19 pm

Chile mine
The first rescuer has begun the half-mile journey to reach 33 miners who have been trapped since an underground collapse on Aug. 5. A paramedic is being lowered by winch in a bullet-shaped capsule fitted with communications gear.

The miners have been underground for 69 days and many are said to be suffering from breathing problems. They have lived and worked to assist their rescue in a hot, humid pocket that remained intact after other exits from the mine became blocked. The paramedic was reportedly carrying a list setting out the order in which the men would be brought to the surface, where their families, a transfixed nation and worldwide audience await.

It is expected to take at least two days to bring all the miners out, assuming the capsule is able to negotiate the man-made shaft, which is only partially lined with metal.

Miners’ relatives, government officials and media representatives all eagerly awaited the first sign of a successful rescue. President Sebastian Pinera arrived at the mine Tuesday to see the rescue efforts and greet the miners.

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

As relatives waited for details about when their loved ones were to be hoisted up aboard the 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.

The first miner to be rescued will be Florencio Avalos and the last will be foreman Juan Urzua, government officials said. If all goes smoothly, all the miners should be freed during the next two days, officials said.

Near the rescue site were containers that were to serve as a makeshift clinic, where for two hours the miners are to receive first aid if needed and be given the chance to shower and change clothes.

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

Earlier, Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said he was not ready to declare “mission accomplished” despite his confidence in the rescue preparations. He said officials hoped that at least one of the miners would be out of the mine before the end of the day Tuesday.

-- Chris Kraul in Copiapo, Chile

Photo: Site of mine rescue. Credit: Lorenzo Moscia/Abaca Press/MCT

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