Trapped miners: Zuma sends support to rescuers

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday joined world leaders in supporting the efforts and progress made by the rescue teams which have embarked on a mission to save Chilean miners who have been trapped under ground for 69 days.

At least 10 of the 33 miners have so far been brought back to the surface.

"Having a strong mining culture like Chile, we can fully empathise with the fears and anxieties of those that have suffered this terrifying experience, the victims, their next-of kin, the government and the people of Chile as a whole," Zuma said.

He congratulated South African Mines Rescue Services and others who were able to offer their resources and expertise in the rescue effort.

Florencio Avalos, 31, was the first to reach the surface after a 69-day ordeal some 700m underground. His family and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera were at the scene to receive him.

Amid a huge wave of applause, cheers, sirens, and under camera flash lights, Avalos walked out of the Phoenix capsule, a 54cm-wide and 4m-high steel tube custom-made by the Chilean Navy that carried him to the ground through a 662m shaft.

About an hour later, Mario Sepulveda was lifted out. Juan Illanes was rescued in another hour, followed by Bolivian Carlos Mamani.

Already rescued were 19-year-old Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest miner, and 63-year-old Mario Gomez, the oldest.

The remaining miners will be hoisted to the ground in a set turn and the whole process will probably last for more than 30 hours, with the rescue for each one taking about one hour.

The miners, who have been trapped since August 5, were confirmed alive on August 22 and it had been estimated that the rescue would take four months.

On Saturday, a 624m deep rescue tunnel was completed, allowing the rescue operation to proceed.

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