Ordeal draws to an end for Chile's trapped miners

Ordeal draws to an end for Chile's trapped miners

After two months, 33 men set to be rescued in a daring operation

Ordeal draws to an end for Chile's trapped miners

The men have spent 68 days in the hot, humid bowels of a small gold and copper mine in Chile’s far northern Atacama desert after an August 5 collapse, and now face a harrowingly claustrophobic journey to the surface in specially-made capsules.

Wives, children, parents and friends are waiting on an arid, rocky hillside around 625-metres directly above them at a tent settlement dubbed ‘Camp Hope’. An entire nation, still recovering from a devastating February earthquake, is ready to celebrate. “Right now I’m calm, though still very anxious. I hope my nerves don’t betray me when the rescue starts,” said Jessica Salgado, whose husband Alex is trapped below, as the sun rose over the camp.

“The first thing I’m going to do is hug him hard, tell him how much I love him, and how I’ve missed him all this time,” she added. She said Mining Minister Laurence Golborne had told the men’s relatives that rescuers could start to raise them from the depths a few hours before the Tuesday midnight (11 pm EDT on Tuesday night) estimate.

Relatives’ vigils

Many miners’ relatives staged vigils as the climax neared. Noemi Donoso, whose 43-year-old son-in-law Samuel Avalos is among the trapped, sat praying in a tent with four family members, their hands joined together to form a circle, singing hymns and chanting “hallelujah” and “glory to God”.

Her daughter had just left to have her hair done in a makeshift hairdressers in another of the camp’s tents. “She went to the salon to get fixed up so she can look pretty when she receives him,” Donoso said.

Rescuers successfully tested a capsule, dubbed ‘Phoenix’ after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes, after they partially lined the narrow escape duct with metal tubes to avoid any last-minute disasters.

The men have set a world record for the length of time workers have survived underground, and have been doing exercises to keep their weight down for their ascent.