Chile: First rescued miners leave hospital
- 15 October 2010
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
Three of the 33 men rescued after 69 days trapped in the San Jose mine in Chile have been discharged from hospital and allowed to go home.
The three, who were not officially identified, left in a white car amid tight security.
Doctors said all the miners had responded well to treatment and many more of them would go home on Friday.
Earlier President Sebastian Pinera visited them and promised to stamp out "inhuman" working conditions in Chile.
Copiapo hospital's deputy medical director Dr Jorge Montes said the three men who left would be allowed to carry out physical activity and would need sunglasses only if they were exposed to intense light.
However, he warned that "the psychological condition of the patients is something we cannot predict".
The miners had been told they would need to be held in the hospital for 48 hours but Health Minister Jaime Manalich announced earlier that their condition was so good that many would be able to leave within 24 hours. He said their condition was nothing short of a miracle.
Some of the men have been given dental surgery and two have the lung disease, silicosis: Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to have been rescued, and Mario Gomez, 63, who is on a course of antibiotics for pneumonia.
The men were hauled to the surface one at a time in a complicated and dramatic operation that took about 22 hours from the time the first miner reached the ground to when the last miner surfaced.
They were winched up a narrow shaft in a metal capsule from where they had been trapped 625m (2,050 feet) below ground since the mine partially collapsed on 5 August.
Speaking from hospital less than 24 hours after his rescue, miner Richard Villarroel described the trip in the capsule as "calm".
"Everything was well-prepared. I came up listening to music."
He and the 32 other miners have set a world record for surviving the longest time trapped underground.
President Pinera met the miners in the hospital and promised a review that would lead to a "very radical change" affecting the health and safety of workers in mining as well as the transport, fishing and construction industries.
He said it was impossible to guarantee that Chile would never face such an accident in the future.
"But we can guarantee one thing: never again in our country will we allow working in conditions so inhuman and so unsafe as happened in the San Jose mine and many other places in our country."
He told the miners there will be a big celebration for them on 25 October, in the capital, Santiago.
He also invited them for a game of football the same day against the officials who had helped rescue them.
Mr Pinera joked that the winners would be allowed to live at the presidential palace, La Moneda, while the losers would have to go back down the mine.
The miners survived the first 17 days of their ordeal by eking out rations that were meant to last just a few days before rescuers found them via a probe lowered down a bore hole about the width of a grapefruit.
Food and other supplies were lowered to the men while they waited for a larger shaft to be drilled for their rescue.
Now that the men are safe, thoughts have turned to their emotional wellbeing.
An insight into how the miners are adjusting to life above ground has come from a diary written for the BBC by the three children of Omar Reygadas, the 17th to be freed.
One of the children, Ximena, has described how her father has become so pale after his 69 days underground that he resembles the cartoon ghost, Casper.
"In general, he's in good spirits. But then when he remembers the first few days after the accident, he starts crying, he gets very upset," she wrote.
"But then he pulls himself together and his spirits are high once more."
The Chilean government has promised to care for the miners for at least six months.
Offers and invitations to the men have begun to pour in.
European football clubs Manchester United and Real Madrid have invited the 33 to watch them play and they have also received offers of holidays and TV appearances.
They are also expected to receive offers of jobs, advertising deals and book and movie contracts to tell their extraordinary stories.