Home  >  Features

Cheers and tears as first miners emerge in Chile

By Moises Avila and Gael Favennec

SAN JOSE MINE, Wednesday 13 October 2010 (AFP) - Calmly stepping out of the claustrophobic rescue cage, Florencio Avalos embraced his tearful seven-year-old son and let fresh air fill his lungs as he tasted freedom after 10 long weeks and Chile erupted in joy.

Whistles and screams of delight greeted the return to the surface of the missile-shaped Phoenix rescue capsule as a captive world audience applauded the arrival of Avalos and paid tribute to an unparalleled feat of survival.

After more than 68 days trapped deep underground in a damp, hot mine shaft plagued by doubt and fear, the reactions of the first miners as they were pulled from their subterranean hell were awe-inspiring.

Wearing dark glasses to shield his vulnerable eyes from the light, Avalos kissed his wife and comforted his son who was overwhelmed by the tension as the creaking winch hoisted his father up more than 600 meters (2,000 feet).

After receiving a bear-hug from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Avalos embraced relatives of the other miners, some unable to hold back tears, amid a throng of hundreds of journalists and wellwishers.

The celebrations only got louder when the second miner, Mario Sepulveda, emerged and put on an exuberant show that completely defied the gravity of his nightmarish ordeal.

Delving into a bag, 40-year-old Sepulveda produced rocks and handed them as ironic gifts to officials and rescuers alike as he laughed and led the congregation in an impromptu chant of celebration.

Later he was more serious. "I have been with God and with the devil. I fought between the two. I seized the hand of God, it was the best hand. I always knew God would get us out of there," he said.

Sadly, the elation of some of 31-year-old Avalos's family members turned to horror when a media scrum trampled their humble tent in a mad rush to secure that all-important interview.

Avalos's father Alfonso, tears running down his face, had just exclaimed: "It's a huge joy. I'm so happy" and hugged his wife Maria Silva when things turned ugly.

Reporters pushed and shoved to be the first to interview them, pulling on the hair of those in the way, throwing punches and almost knocking others to the ground.

The chaos and jostling marred the celebrations as the news workers rushed forward as one to capture the historic moment and surrounded the tent on all sides in walls of cameras and journalists.

The family retreated, and a frightened-looking Maria angrily hit out at journalists close to her with the Chilean flag bunched in her hand.

The mayhem stood out in an otherwise festive occasion in which families and reporters alike shared the euphoria of seeing the miners emerging one by one from the earth.

But it was also revealing of the media pressure that has built up around the 33 miners, who have become national icons in Chile, and internationally famous.

Since their discovery on August 22, alive against all hope, their extraordinary struggle to survive has become an epic tale of human endurance followed closely by a captive audience around the globe.

The 32 Chileans and one Bolivian have become national heroes and imminent media stars, with books, movies and a barrage of press coverage likely from the moment they emerge from the mine.

In the ultimate sign of just how big a spectacle the miners' rescue has become, television megastar Don Francisco -- one of the biggest celebrities in all of Latin America -- was broadcasting from the site.

"I haven't seen so much media attention since the Apollo XI back in 1969," said the Chilean performer, referring to the NASA mission that sent men to the moon for the first time.

In a party atmosphere, balloons drifted into the air and confetti showered on the heads of the crowds in pictures transmitted live to televisions sets and computer screens across the world.

Camp Hope, as the camp at the entrance to the fateful mine has been baptized, was home to a couple of hundred relatives of the miners when the accident first occurred trapping them August 5.

As the rescue neared, the number of relatives swelled to 800 -- but was quickly dwarfed by around 2,000 media employees who arrived from around the world to cover the momentous event.

Related stories:
Chile's joy spreads to the world as all 33 miners saved
Jubilation as last miner rescued in Chile
Rescued Chilean miners are healthy, with exceptions
Emotional Chile miners' rescue in final stages
Rescued: Chilean miners taste freedom at last
Who are these heroic Chile miners?
Media mayhem mars family's joy at Chile mine rescue
World is captive audience for Chile mine rescue
Chronology of the Chile mine disaster (UPDATED)
Concern for psychological welfare when Chile miners emerge
First Chile miner back on surface after 10-week ordeal
First Chile miners set for Tuesday rescue
Hopes and fears as Chile miners prepare for rescue

Photo story:
Seeing light again

MySinchew 2010.10.13

Copyright © 2019 Sin Chew Media Corporation Berhad (98702-V).
All rights reserved. Contact us : [email protected]