Rescued Miners: Grim Details Surface

In some cases family members are hearing for the first time how the 33 miners’ desperation drove them to burn tyres, set off explosives and resort to drinking oil-contaminated water in the 17 days before they were found alive.

“The worst moment was the second collapse, when the mine was closed off completely.

“I thought I wouldn’t see my wife again, I wouldn’t see my son born,” 27-year-old miner Richard Villarroel said. “When I prayed, I prayed for them.”

Their Wednesday rescue revealed men in surprisingly good health and high spirits after two months of limited contact with the surface through ducts the width of a grapefruit.

But several men said they feared they would die in those first desperate weeks.

Villarroel said they tried scrambling up air shafts and burning tyres to alert rescuers on the surface.

Realising they could be trapped for some time, they restricted themselves to two scoops of tuna and half a cracker daily.

When the first sounding drill reached them on August 22, the men were taking a bite of food every couple of days.

When their reserves of bottled water dwindled to 10 litres, the men began drinking from metal drums of water tainted with motor oil.

“We came together in the hard moments, when we had nothing, when we drank water that wasn’t for drinking,” rescued miner Franklin Lobos said.