With rescue, miners' private lives come to light

AP News
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Posted: Oct 13, 2010 8:20 PM
With rescue, miners' private lives come to light

One is a great-grandfather four times over, another a 19-year-old dad. A third _ the oldest _ is 63, and has spent a half-century working the mines. A fourth had a wife and a mistress, too.

The men who survived 69 days trapped underground after a mine collapse were making history Wednesday as they _ and their private lives _ tumbled out into the light.

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THE MEDIC

Johnny Barrios Rojas' rescue was among the most anticipated _ if only to see who would be there to greet him.

No. 21 of the men pulled from the collapsed mine, Barrios gained notoriety as the man who had two women at Camp Hope _ his wife of 28 years, Marta Salinas, and his mistress of four, Susana Valenzuela.

Salinas apparently knew nothing of the affair until the two women ran into each other amid the tents pitched by family members anxiously holding vigil _ and a very public spat ensued.

The 50-year-old Barrios looked around sheepishly Wednesday as he emerged from the rescue tube that elevated him to the Earth's surface, peering through dark glasses as mining officials in red shirts applauded loudly.

Behind him, smiling widely and waiting for him to notice her stood Valenzuela. When he didn't, the round-faced strawberry blonde walked around to face Barrios and gave him a long kiss and hug, weeping into the shoulder of his jumpsuit as he whispered into her ear.

Salinas was nowhere to be seen.

Weeks earlier, Barrios' wife had ripped down a poster of her husband put up by his mistress.

Defiant, the mistress taped the poster back up, and beneath several poems and prayers she had dedicated to him, she signed it, "Your Wife."

Dubbed "el enfermero" _ the nurse _ Barrios served as the miners' medic during the ordeal, dispensing medication sent in by health officials, passing out nicotine patches and photographing wounds.

He reportedly ended all his letters this way: "Get me out of this hole, dead or alive."

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THE VETERAN

He had promised her if he got through this alive they would finally have their church wedding _ after three decades, four daughters and seven grandchildren.

So when 63-year-old Mario Gomez emerged, grasped a Chilean flag and dropped to his knees to pray, Lilianett Ramirez was the one who pulled him up from the ground and held him in a long embrace.

The promise of a proper wedding came in the first letter Gomez had ever written his wife during their 30-year marriage. Scrawled on sheets of notebook paper, the letter was placed in a plastic bag and tied to the end of the drill bit that first broke through to their underground purgatory, along with another miner's message announcing: "We're all OK in the refuge, the 33."

Read on television by President Sebastian Pinera, Gomez's "Dear Lila" letter was filled with faith and determination, and showed the world the miners were holding strong.

"Even if we have to wait months to communicate ... I want to tell everyone that I'm good and we'll surely come out OK," Gomez wrote. "Patience and faith. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive."

A miner since he was 12 years old, Gomez is missing three fingers on his left hand from a mine accident. He suffers from silicosis, a lung disease common to miners. He made the ascent Wednesday wearing an oxygen mask, and was on antibiotics and medicine for a bronchial inflammation.

As the most experienced miner in the group, Gomez, using maps and diagrams, became "the GPS we needed down there," rescuers said.

After years spent mostly away from wife and family as he labored underground, relatives said there was a new appreciation for his wife.

"Feelings have changed. There's more love, in the sense that they're sharing things now, feelings that perhaps they never expressed before," said Julia Gordillo, 37. "Lily is content."

And there's a wedding to plan.

Gomez's nephew, Roberto Reyes, himself a miner, said his aunt and uncle may get the honeymoon they never had by accepting a Greek mining company's invitation to all those rescued and their spouses for an all-expenses-paid trip to Greece's islands, and by accepting other invitations to visit Germany, France and Spain.

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THE ORGANIZER

Omar Reygadas became a great-grandfather _ for the fourth time _ while trapped underground.

The 56-year-old electrician had survived other mine collapses and was said to have exclaimed "Not again!" when he and the others were trapped by the Aug. 5 collapse.

Reygadas later helped organize life below the surface, calming others when they got nervous and helping them get what they needed from authorities outside.

"He is in charge of ensuring that we are well," one miner wrote to his wife.

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THE YOUNGSTER

Jimmy Sanchez, the youngest at 19, proposed to his 17-year-old girlfriend while he was trapped below, though his father urged him to reconsider. The couple have a 4-month-old baby girl.

"You are just 19, and have so much life ahead of you, to enjoy, to know people," read the letter Eugenio Sanchez sent to his son. "It cannot be that because you are now closed up in the mine that you are going to throw away all your plans."

"It's fine that you want to be with Helencita and everything... but get married? Well, marriage is a really serious thing."

But girlfriend Helen Avalos said she was sure they would be wed.

"He has to keep his word," she said. But first, "We'll have an enormous party. I think we'll have almost 500 people."

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THE EVANGELIST

Jose Henriquez turned to his Christian faith while he was underground, forming a prayer group that met several times a day, and asking to have 33 Bibles sent down the narrow supply passage.

Nevertheless, the 56-year-old father of twin daughters had one vice he hoped the time underground would cure.

Herniquez' wife Hettiz Berrios was said to be happy when her husband asked authorities to send him food rather than cigarettes. "He's trying to stop puffing. ... Hopefully he'll do it," she said.

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THE FOOTBALLER

Former Chilean national soccer player Franklin Lobos has never seen a bigger victory.

Lobos briefly bounced a soccer ball on his foot and knee as he stepped from the capsule that carried him from the mine where he was trapped with 32 other men. Then he embraced relatives and President Pinera.

The 53-year-old is the only rescued man whose name was widely known in Chile before the disaster. He played for the Chilean team that qualified for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

He was the driver of a truck that takes miners to and from the mine. He was in the mine with the group he drives when the collapse occurred _ leaving them alive but cut off from the outside world.

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Snow reported from Mexico City.