33 Chilean miners start new lives, adjust to freedom

Newly rescued men are in high demand on first full day of freedom after 69 days underground.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
October 15, 2010 04:53
3 minute read.
Surrounded by policemen, Chile's Mining Minister L

Chile Mine Rescue. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

 
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COPIAPO, Chile  — The Chilean miners began their unfamiliar new lives as national heroes Thursday and got a taste of what awaits them outside the hospital doors — a swarm of reporters, TV producers, publicity agents and even soccer teams all desperate for a piece of their story.

A day after their epic rescue, still wearing the oddly fashionable sunglasses that protected them from the bright light when they were hoisted from 2,000 feet underground, the men posed in hospital bathrobes for a group photo with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

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Unity helped the men, known as "los 33," survive for 69 days underground, including more than two weeks when no one knew whether they were alive.

But the moment they walk out the hospital doors, they'll go beyond the reach of a government operation that has cared for, fed and protected them in a carefully coordinated campaign to ensure each of them would leave in top condition.

"Now they're going to have to find their equilibrium and take care of themselves," the hospital chaplain, the Rev. Luis Lopez, told The Associated Press.

They got quite the preview Thursday of what lies ahead. On their first full day of fresh air, the miners were probably the 33 most in-demand people on the planet.



A Greek mining company wants to bring them to the sunny Aegean islands, competing with rainy Chiloe in the country's southern archipelago, whose tourism bureau wants them to stay for a week.

Soccer teams in Madrid, Manchester and Buenos Aires want them in their stadiums. Bolivia's president wants them at his palace. TV host Don Francisco wants them all on his popular "Sabado Gigante" show in Miami.

Hearing that miner Edison Pena jogged regularly in the tunnels below the collapsed rock, the New York City marathon invited him to participate in next month's race.

What about a reality show? Some other kind of TV work? Why not, said television writer-producer and Oscar nominee Lionel Chetwynd, who said he expected projects were being pitched around Hollywood within hours of the rescue.

"Television is a quick-response medium," he said, joking: "In fact, I think I'll call my agent when we get off the phone."

Three of the men were discharged from the hospital Thursday evening and others were expected to follow on Friday and over the weekend.

Chilean state television showed the men leaving Copiapo's regional hospital by a side exit and getting into a white van.

Among the three was Pena. State TV showed him being enthusiastically greeted by applauding neighbors as he arrived at his house. He described his raucous greeting as "very beautiful."

"I thought I would never return," he said.

The miners families and friends were organizing welcome-home dinners, street celebrations and even weddings. Lilianett Ramirez, whose husband Mario Gomez promised her a church wedding in the "Dear Lila" letter Pinera read on TV when the men were found alive, said they have now set a date: "If God and the Virgin desire it, we'll get married on Nov. 7, his birthday," she said, beaming as she left the hospital.

The government promised six months of psychological treatment, made sure each has a bank account only he can operate, and coached them on dealing with rude questions.

The rescue team even asked Guinness World Records to honor all 33 with the record for longest time trapped underground, rather than the last miner out, Luis Urzua. Guinness spokeswoman Jamie Panas said the organization was studying the question.

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