Northern Chile is brimming with emotion over the successful rescue of 33 workers trapped in the San José mine located about 800 km from the capital, Santiago, in the Atacama Desert.
The operation began Tuesday night, when the brigade member Manuel González, who has extensive experience in the largest underground mine in the world, El Teniente, boarded ‘Phoenix II’, a specially designed rescue capsule 54 centimeters in diameter, 3.9 meters long and 450 kilos.
Slightly more than 16 minutes passed before the employee of state copper company Codelco, inside the red, white and blue cage reached the interior, 622 meters down where the workers have been since August 5.
A television camera in the shelter recorded González’ arrival to the depths of the refuge, the calm reception of the miners – one of whom is Bolivian – and the beginning of their gradual ascent.
«El viejo is in the capsule,» said the rescuer, before the capsule was raised with the foreman Florencio Ávalos at 23:55 on Tuesday. 17 minutes later, before the eyes of the world, the device appeared at the surface.
The 31 year old worker who has maintained a low-profile as the photographer in the mine, appeared in good spirits, embraced his young son Bryan and wife Monica, who seconds before had been in tears.
He received the greetings of President Sebastián Piñera. «You don’t know how much we’ve waited for you, Florencio» said the President, words that the miner thanked moments before leaving to have the required tests at the hospital of Copiapó, where he received vitamin supplements, phosphates and salts, and will be hospitalized for 48 hours alongside his 32 colleagues.
The operation, which is estimated to take 36 hours, continued with the descent of the tactical diver of the Chilean Navy Roberto Rios, which led to the lifting of the group of most capable workers: Mario Sepúlveda (40), Juan Illanes Palma (51), the Bolivian Carlos Mamani Solís (24), Jimmy Sánchez (19) and Osmán Araya (30).