Latin America & Caribbean

Chile miners reflect on changed lives five years on

Chilean miner Jimmy Sanchez is welcomed by his father after being rescued from the San Jose mine Image copyright AFP
Image caption The miners became trapped in the San Jose copper-gold mine after a tunnel collapsed on 5 August 2010

Five years ago, one billion people tuned in to watch the successful rescue of 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days.

Their lives are now being immortalised in a Hollywood film starring Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche.

One of the stars of the film is Maria Segovia, who became known as La Alcaldesa, or the Mayoress, of Camp Hope.

This was the tent city where relatives waited for their loved ones to be brought to safety.

Image caption Maria Segovia is thrilled to be played by Juliette Binoche in a film about the rescue

"I got on a bus and went straight to the mine when I heard my younger brother Dario had been trapped and I didn't leave until he came out safely," she recalled her time camped in the Atacama desert.

Banderas' bottom

"I was very excited to meet Juliette Binoche and to teach her how to make my famous pastries," she told the BBC at her empanada stall at a market in the city of Antofagasta.

"But, I did tell her I thought she could do with being a bit browner and plumper, if she really wants to truthfully represent me."

La Alcaldesa confided that the best thing to happen to her was meeting Hollywood heartthrob Antonio Banderas, who allowed her to pinch his bottom.

She has a photo in her stall to prove it.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Antonio Banderas joined the Chilean miners for a preview showing of The 33 in Santiago
Image caption The 33 were pulled to safety in this narrow capsule

She says: "To this day I haven't washed the blouse I wore when I met him."

The 33 miners are hoping that the film will improve their financial situation because they are getting a cut from the ticket sales.

Life has been difficult for them in the last five years with health issues plaguing the vast majority and many also encountering problems with finding work.

Finding love

"I suffered a mental breakdown two years after the accident which led to panic attacks, insomnia and forgetfulness.

"I am still off work for health reasons and need to see a psychologist in Santiago every month," Carlos Barrios, one of the younger miners, told the BBC

But one thing he did find as a result of the accident was love.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Carlos Barrios found love in the aftermath of the ordeal

Marta Contreras is a social worker with the local council.

She helped look after the miners' families during the 69 days the men were trapped underground.

When they finally got out, everyone wanted to meet them.

They went on all expenses paid trips to places like Disneyland and to meet the footballers at Manchester United.

Marta accompanied the miners on a trip to Israel.

"I thought I would never fall in love with one of the miners, but I began to realise that I had a shared passion with Carlos for helping other people and we started to fall in love."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The site of the mining accident has become a tourist site

Miner Yonni Barrios and his girlfriend Susana Valenzuela are one of the most famous couples in the group.

Mr Barrios turned into an instant celebrity when the press discovered that his wife and girlfriend were fighting over him while he was trapped underground.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Yonni Barrios ultimately picked his girlfriend over his wife

One of the lead doctors in the rescue operation, Jean Romagnol, described how the situation came to light:

"After 17 days the miners were found alive and well and we started to send provisions down to them through a tiny borehole.

"They would send up their dirty laundry to be washed. The problem was they sent the washing to Yonni's wife Marta Salina, but she refused to do it or to hand it over to his girlfriend.

"He ended up begging me to lend him some clean clothes, until we could sort out the situation."

Despite different versions in the press, both women knew about each other and had been friends.

Yonni Barrios used to shuttle back and forth between the two, but in the end he picked his girlfriend.

Five years on, they are still living happily together around the corner from where Marta Salina lives.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The miners spent 69 days underground before a drill reached them and they could be rescued

But the experience has taken its toll on the miners.

One of the older miners, Omar Reygadas, says that it has changed his personality.

"I used to be a very social person who loved to get together with my children and grandchildren for barbecues, but now I prefer to be alone." he said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Omar Reygadas says he became irritable after the mine accident

"While I was down in the mine, I felt I was just doing a very long shift.

"But, when I came out everyone wanted a piece of me and now I hate it when the phone rings, I get angry very easily and although I love my girlfriend very much I'm relieved I don't share a house with her because I need my space."

Despite that, five years on, he still values his family above all else and is very glad he was rescued.

"What I have learnt from all this is that you should never lose your faith that God exists and the most important thing of all is the family, you need to show them you love them. "

Listen to Jane Chambers' full report on the lives of the Chilean miners five years after their rescue on the BBC World Service's Outlook programme

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