He has been wearing a hard hat for the better part of 50 years. Aged 63 and suffering from chronic health problems, he first started mining when he was 12. His wife, Lilian Ramirez, fears he will return to mining, even after this ordeal.
“I’m going to tell him he can’t go on in the mines. It’s time for him to rest,” she said in an interview in the days before the rescue. Chileans have spoken about the miraculous rescues that are pulling miners to the surface from the darkness deep below as dramatic rebirths. And he is the oldest of the group of 33 miners being “born” for a second time.
Much of Gomez’s mining life in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country has been spent in the San Jose mine and his peers say he knows its layout better than anyone. But the mine where he earned his living suffered a cave-in more than two months ago and President Sebastian Pinera has said it will never reopen because it is unsafe.
Gomez was hoisted up a claustrophobic tunnel around 625 metres long with an oxygen mask on but had pulled it off by the time he reached the surface to breath fresh air after 69 days underground.
Gomez, the ninth miner to be rescued, hugged his wife, prayed and then held his arms up high over his head while carrying a Chilean flag, cheered on by smiling rescue workers. He was then checked into a field hospital erected at the mine, where he was visited by Pinera.
“Thank you,” Gomez said simply.