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Dublin: 12°C Monday 20 September 2021

Seeing the light: 33 miners freed after ten-week torture

They scheduled 48 hours: it took only 25 to release the 33 miners and the six rescuers who went to help them.

Luis Urzua, the final miner released, stands with president Sebastian Pinera as workers sing the Chilean national anthem.
Luis Urzua, the final miner released, stands with president Sebastian Pinera as workers sing the Chilean national anthem.
Image: Hugo Infante/Government of Chile

THE CITY of Copiapó – and millions around the world – are in raptures this morning as the last of the 33 miners trapped in the San José mine reach the surface, ending ten weeks of being trapped underground in their collapsed copper and gold mine.

At 9:55am local time last night – shortly before 2am Irish time – 54-year-old Luis Urzua, who had been the shift supervisor on August 5 when the first rockfall occurred, and who had immediately taken the group to a refuge where he organised their finite resources to survive a long-term underground stay – ended his 622m journey to the surface of the Atacama desert, and bringing to an end a remarkable story of human endurance and engineering ingenuity.

After he returned to the surface – to be met, as each of his 32 colleagues had been – by Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, who then led a rendition of the national anthem as the world watched on.

Less than three hours later, with the turnaround time for a full journey of the Fenix 2 rescue capsule dragged down from an hour to around 25 minutes, the sixth of the rescue workers who had descended into the mine returned to the surface, completing the rescue mission – codenamed Operation San Lorenzo – within 25 hours of its original 48-hour schedule.

Piñera then, symbolically, placed a manhole-cover over the mouth of the tunnel that had shepherded them to freedom, formally ending the mission.

All 33 of the rescued men have been taken to hospital in Copiacó (population of about 130,000) for observation for the next two days; a small number of them have some small eye irritation caused by dust clouds when the collapse in the mine took place.

Two or three of the men have developed a mild form of pneumonia, while all will need intensive dental treatment to repair the damage done by ten weeks of not brushing regularly. Each has also shown symptoms of a viral skin infection.

When they are free to leave the hospital and go about their own lives, they have been invited to attend games at Manchester United and Real Madrid, as well as visit Greece at the expense of a local mining company there.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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