By Maria Lorente (AFP) – Oct 17, 2010
COPIAPO, Chile — Chile's mining heroes returned to the scene of their record-breaking survival for an emotional celebratory mass on Sunday, announcing plans for a foundation dedicated to better mine safety.
Thirteen survivors, accompanied by partners and children, took part in a private service after visiting the tent city where relatives refused to give up hope, waiting anxiously for 10 long weeks for their safe return.
Claudio Yanez, who proposed to his longtime companion Cristina Nunez during the ordeal, toured "Camp Hope" with his tiny daughter in his arms, peering into tents now empty and battered by the strong Atacama desert winds.
"This was a city," he said, as workers slowly set about taking down the makeshift shelters that became home to thousands of relatives and wellwishers as the massive rescue effort reached its euphoric climax on Wednesday.
Dario Segovia, a rescued drill operator whose sister Maria was nicknamed "The Mayoress" for the leadership role she assumed at the camp, paid tribute to the stoicism of the miners' families.
"Everyone suffered out here as we suffered down there," he said.
Many miners did not attend the mass as they were still recuperating after their 69-day ordeal, while others were sleeping off family celebrations that ran late into Saturday night following their release from hospital.
Only one miner, Victor Zamora, remains in the care of doctors and he is expected to remain under medical observation until at least Tuesday after undergoing serious dental surgery.
The return to the mine was part of what is expected to be a long process of readjustment for the 33 men, who have become national heroes and garnered global attention for their miraculous survival and dramatic rescue.
Their new-found fame could bring them riches, but they also plan to use it to improve the fate of miners worldwide, they said.
"We have to do something together, the experience must be put to use," Juan Illanes told El Mercurio newspaper. "We have to decide how to direct our project so this type of thing never happens again."
Yonni Barrios, who famously asked both his wife and his girlfriend to come to the mine and greet him on Wednesday, told AFP the men wanted to find a way to advise companies on making mines safer.
"We're thinking about creating a foundation to solve problems in the mining industry," he said. "With this, with the experience that we have had, God help us, we should be able to solve these problems."
Fatal mine accidents since their rescue, in China and Ecuador, provided yet more reminders of the great risks associated with the industry.
In China, at least 26 people were dead after a gas explosion in a coal mine, and hope was fading that 11 others would be found alive.
In Ecuador, at least two men were confirmed dead after a rock collapse blocked the exit of a gold mine, and rescuers were working to find two others.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who embarked Friday on a tour of Europe, said his country would offer China any help it could.
In London, at the start of trip that will also take him to Paris and Berlin, Pinera said the rescue of the 33 men provided the world with an example of "commitment, courage, faith, hope and unity."
First accounts from the miners have hinted at how harrowing their experiences were, particularly in the first 17 days when rescuers could not make contact and the men feared being given up for dead.
"The confinement was terrible," said Illanes, a 52-year-old mechanic and former soldier. "The first 17 days were a nightmare."
A model of the high-tech capsule that brought the men to the surface is now being sent to China for display at Chile's stand at the Shanghai Expo, Chile's interior minister said Sunday.
The capsule is one of three versions of the "Phoenix," named for the symbolic rebirth experienced by the men upon their safe return to the surface.
The model that was used in their rescue, the "Phoenix 2," will now be displayed in Santiago, next the presidential palace, but could eventually feature in a museum at the San Jose mine site.
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