Chilean miners rescue: escape capsule begins rescue of trapped men
The 33 trapped Chilean miners are counting down the minutes to their rescue as the NASA-built escape capsule arrives at the rescue platform 622 meters underground.
SAN JOSE MINE, Chile
A missile-like escape capsule was lowered into a nearly half-mile tunnel in the Chilean desert Tuesday night to carry 33 miners to fresh air and freedom after 69 days — the longest anyone has ever been trapped underground and survived.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Chile mine rescue
In Pictures Chile mine collapse
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Steam rushed from the hole into the frigid night air — a sign of the humid, sauna-like conditions the men have endured in the gold and copper mine.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera patted the side of the custom-built capsule proudly as the last act of the mine collapse ordeal approached.
"We made a promise to never surrender, and we kept it," Pinera said as he waited to greet the miners, whose endurance and unity captivated the world as Chile meticulously prepared their rescue.
Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said he hoped the first of the miners would still emerge before midnight, a slow process because of the need for methodical testing with a rescue worker inside once all the cables are attached and tested.
A mine rescue expert will be lowered in the capsule and raised again to test it, and then that rescuer and a navy special forces paramedic will be lowered to the men to prepare them for the trip. Only then can the first miner be pulled to safety. It is expected to take as many as 36 hours for the last miner to be rescued.
Families and reporters huddled around TVs and bonfires as the preliminary rescue order was announced. Florencio Avalos, the 31-year-old second-in-command of the miners, was to be the first miner out.
Avalos has been so shy that he volunteered to handle the camera rescuers sent down so he wouldn't have to appear on the videos that the miners sent up.
The last miner out is also decided: Shift foreman Luis Urzua, whose leadership was credited for helping the men endure 17 days with no outside contact after the collapse. The men made 48 hours' worth of rations last that entire time before rescuers could drill holes to them and send down more food.
Janette Marin, sister-in-law of miner Dario Segovia, said the order of rescue didn't matter. "What matters is that he is getting out, that they are all getting out.
"This won't be a success unless they all get out," she added, echoing the solidarity that the miners and people across Chile have expressed.
The paramedics can change the order of rescue based on a brief medical check once they're in the mine. First out will be those best able to handle any difficulties and tell their comrades what to expect. Then, the weakest and the ill — in this case, about 10 suffer from hypertension, diabetes, dental and respiratory infections and skin lesions from the mine's oppressive humidity. The last should be people who are both physically fit and strong of character.
Chile has taken extensive precautions to ensure the miners' privacy, using a screen to block the top of the shaft from the more than 1,000 journalists at the scene.
The miners will be ushered through an inflatable tunnel, like those used in sports stadiums, to an ambulance for a trip of several hundred yards (meters) to a triage station for a medical check. They will gather with a few relatives in an area also closed to the media, before being taken by helicopter to a hospital.
Each ride up the shaft is expected to take about 20 minutes, and authorities expect they can haul up one miner per hour. When the last man surfaces, it promises to end a national crisis that began when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed Aug. 5, sealing the miners into the lower reaches of the mine.