‘ALL 33 of us are fine in the shelter’.
This was the message read out by the President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, on Sunday, outside the San Jose gold and copper mine, to crowds of relatives of the 33 miners whom the
They had waited there for 17 days.
The Chilean copper and gold mine collapsed on the 5th of August.
After eight attempts, rescue workers had managed to drill a small shaft into the mine and make contact with the trapped miners through camera.
Until last Sunday, there had been no word from the miners and hopes for their survival were fading.
The note came like a bolt from the blue and led to mass celebrations.
Since August 5th, the miners have survived inside a shelter within the mine, four and a half miles into the workings and 800 metres below the surface, deep inside the Chilean mountains.
The shelter is the size of a small flat and was especially prepared for an emergency situation with water and food supplies.
Rescuers now plan to send narrow plastic tubes down the bore hole with food, hydration gels and equipment that will allow them to communicate with relatives.
The oldest trapped miner, 63-year-old Mario Gomez, sent up a letter to his wife.
Part of the letter reads: ‘This company has got to modernise’.
In fact, the mining disaster has raised serious concerns about the safety of the mines in Chile, and there have been numerous complaints about safety at the San Jose mine.
The rest of the letter to his wife expresses an heroic confidence and determination that they will survive: ‘Dear Liliana, I’m well, thank God. I hope to get out soon. Have patience and faith.
‘I haven’t stopped thinking about all of you for a single moment.’
Mario Gomez’s daughter said: ‘No-one will be able to take this happiness away from me. I’ve never felt anything like this in my life. It’s like being born again’.
Rescuers are now preparing to drill a wider hole through which they can bring the miners to the surface, but it is a major operation that will take up the months to Christmas.
Andres Sougarret, is the chief engineer in charge of the rescue operation.
He said that to dig a hole big enough to bring the trapped minors to safety would require ‘a shaft 66cm (26 inches) in diameter and that will take at least 120 days to dig.’
The Chilean president Pinera, addressing the crowds outside the mine, said: ‘It will take months to get them out. They’ll come out thin and dirty, but whole and strong.’
The president had seen images of the miners through a camera that had been lowered down the bore hole.
Pinera said: ‘Many of them approached the camera and put their faces right up against it, like children, and we could see happiness and hope in their eyes’.
As news that the miners were still alive spread across Chile, people gathered at the main square in the capital, Santiago, to celebrate.