Who are these heroic miners?

2010-10-13 12:17

The first of 33 miners trapped deep underground in a Chilean mine for a record 69 days were pulled out alive today in an amazing story of human survival.

Here are short biographies of some of the most prominent miners whose tale of hope and endurance has captivated the world:

The first out: For a short time 31-year-old Florencio Avalos will be the most talked about man as he emerged first from the San Jose mine into the full glare of the media spotlight.

It is no coincidence that he was chosen to be first.

The athletic father-of-two was the second most senior miner trapped and he was considered the safest pair of hands if something went wrong with the rescue capsule.

Avalos, who loves playing football with his two children, aged seven and 17, has a brother Renan – the doctor in the group but with limited medical experience – who will be one of the last miners to be pulled up.

The leader: Luis Urzua (54) was the head of shift when the mine collapsed on August 5 and has acted as a leader during the more than two months underground.

He had only been working at the mine for two months prior to the accident.

“We’re well and waiting for you to rescue us,” Urzua told Chilean President Sebastian Pinera in a first telephone conversation from the collapsed mine.

He added that the confinement was like “hell”.

He described to the president how the mine caved in.

“The hill came down at 1.40pm. We were worried for our colleagues who were heading out with a full truck. Then the dustbowl came and in four or five hours we couldn’t see what was going on, or what the situation was. Then we saw we were trapped by an enormous rock blocking the whole tunnel.”

Urzua has agreed to stay until the bitter end and be the last miner to be hoisted to freedom.

The oldest: At 63, Mario Gomez is the oldest of the trapped miners. The son of a miner, Gomez has worked in the industry since the age of 12.

He expressed his love for his wife, to whom he has been married for 31 years, from the depths of the mine.

“He’s quiet and not someone to express his emotions,” said his wife Liliana Ramirez, after receiving a letter from her husband.

“I was surprised by his letter. He said he loves me. I’ve never received a letter like that from him – even when we were going out he wasn’t romantic.”

The couple have four daughters.

The ex-footballer: Franklin Lobos (53) is a former professional soccer player in a Chilean league.

He received one of two signed T-shirts sent to the mine by FC Barcelona and Spanish World Cup winning star David Villa, whose father and grandfather were both miners.

“There are many (former) footballers in mining,” William Lobos, Franklin’s nephew, told AFP. “Since they only work (play football) until they are 36 years old, the mining companies which own the teams offer them work.”

Lobos did not fear working in the mine because his work was mainly transporting miners, so he spent less time in the darkness of the tunnels, his family said.

“He has two daughters and they are both studying. He took on two jobs to earn more,” said William.

The presenter: Mario Sepulveda (40) was the second worker to be pulled safely from the mine. During their 10-week ordeal he has presented most of the videos recorded by the group.

“I have been with God and with the devil,” he said on being rescued. “I fought between the two. I seized the hand of God, it was the best hand. I always knew God would get us out of there.”

His joyous celebrations, which included handing out rocks to rescuers and officials, were an immediate hit around the world.

Sepulveda’s wife, Elvira Valdivia, said her husband is a natural leader. He was a union representative in another mine in the same company.

The Bolivian: Carlos Mamani (23) is the only non-Chilean in the group. The Bolivian national was the fourth miner to taste freedom.

President Evo Morales of Bolivia was expected to fly in in Chile today to personally escort Mamani home.

The youngest: At just 19, Jimmy Sanchez is the youngest of the 33 trapped miners and had only been working in the mine for five months before disaster struck.

He was the fifth to be pulled to safety.

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