Miners prepare to swap life in the dark for the glare of publicity

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The Independent US

First they want to hug their loved ones. Then they'll party. Finally, once the dust has settled and their hangovers have cleared, the 33 men who will have survived being trapped inside a Chilean mine for almost 70 days intend to leverage their international fame to make sure they never have to put on a hard hat and venture back underground again.

With the first of the miners now officially scheduled to return to the surface at midnight tonight local time, the increasingly excited miners are devoting their final hours inside the San Jose mine to finalising details of how they intend to go about the lucrative business of telling their extraordinary story.

"Los 33", as the miners are known, have asked a lawyer on the surface to prepare a contract under which they will agree to share equally in any proceeds from TV, film, and publishing deals linked to their ordeal. The agreement is thought to stipulate that they will jointly participate in the all-important first interview.

"We have already received many offers to be filmed and interviewed by national television," one of the best-known of the men, Yonni Barrios, 50, wrote in a letter sent to the surface. "But we didn't accept because we are going to form a foundation and all our daily experiences during our time down here will go into a book and other projects."

The first TV interview is widely expected to happen at the regional hospital in Copiapo where all of the men will be airlifted shortly after they emerge from the mine. An open ward on the third floor, where beds have been prepared for 17 of the men is considered to be the most likely backdrop.

For that to happen, the remaining 16 miners, who will be taken to eight two-man private rooms on the second floor, will have to be in a sufficiently robust physical condition to join their comrades upstairs, Abel Olmos, a spokesman for the hospital, told The Independent.

"We are doing everything we can to continue working normally," he said. "Los 33 will stay here for 48 hours, depending on their condition, and we have a unit on standby in case any of them are in a critical condition. The press conference still has to be confirmed."

Police were yesterday erecting riot barriers outside the entrance of the hospital and installing security checkpoints in an effort to prevent journalists – some of whom are rumoured to be investing in fake doctors' outfits – from gaining access to the ward where the miners are held.

The men have for the past week been given an hour per day of dealing with the media, and have been practising how to reply to "ugly, bad and indiscreet" questions about their experiences underground, their personal lives on the surface, and their families.

By setting up a foundation to deal with their future incomes, the men – who were previously earning roughly 320,000 Chilean pesos [£417] a month hope to ensure their families achieve financial security. The miners have already been helped by Leonardo Farkas, a philanthropic Chilean mining executive, who gave 5m pesos [£6,500] checks in each of their names to the 33 families, and set up a fund to collect public donations to them. Meanwhile one miner's child was invited on to a TV game show where she earned thousands of dollars.

If the men's media careers don't pan out, then they've always got the courts: 27 of the 33 workers have filed a negligence lawsuit against the mine's owners, the San Esteban mining company, seeking billions of pesos in compensation. A similar suit against government regulators is also planned.

Are they ready?

The presenter

You never know where you'll be when fame comes a-calling. Buried deep underground, former heavy equipment operator Mario Sepulveda has discovered that he boasts a rare talent in front of camera.

Using a camcorder which has been sent down communication lines to the area where he is trapped, Sepulveda has made a series of extraordinarily entertaining films documenting their daily existence. In the first of his videos, which became a YouTube sensation, he cracked a series of jokes as he introduced the men one by one: "This is our casino. We play dominoes sometimes at nights to entertain ourselves. Please say 'Hi!'' guys!"

After he returns to the surface, several TV stations are expected to compete for the services of the extroverted miner, who is now known across Chile as "the presenter".

The proud father

Unable to hold his wife Elizabeth's hand as doctors delivered their daughter, Ariel Ticona offered words of encouragement via his own umbilical cord: a telephone line to the hospital where the action was taking place. Things took a surreal turn several hours later when rescue workers set up a video link between hospital and mine.

Mr Ticona was expecting to see the newborn girl snoozing in her mother's arms, but was instead greeted by the sight of Chile's President, Sebastiá* Pinera, kissing the nipper in front of a phalanx of photographers. The couple have named their daughter Esperanza – Spanish for "hope"..

The husband-to-be

For months, Claudio Yanez pestered his girlfriend of 10 years, Cristina Nunez, to marry him. But despite being the mother of his two young daughters, she hemmed and hawed.

It's amazing what a difference a natural disaster makes, though. Several weeks into his underground ordeal, Yanez received a carefully written proposal letter from the woman he loves. "I said no then because I wanted us to be older and better prepared," it read. "Well now, I think we're prepared."

A month into their engagement, the couple are preparing for a lifetime of domestic bliss. "He told me to buy a baby-doll negligée, so I'm going to," Nunez said yesterday. "I'll be a little devil on the first night after the rescue, and a bride on the wedding night."

The philanderer

When he steps blinking into the sunlight, Yonni Barrios will have some serious explaining to do: waiting anxiously at the surface are both his wife, Marta, and his mistress, Susana. This unfortunate scenario emerged when the 50-year-old's wife arrived at the San José mine clutching a photograph of him, only to discover that another woman was already there, doing the same.

It is not entirely clear whether Mr Barrios has been informed about this state of affairs, but the two women in his life recently added to the soap-opera nature of proceedings at the surface by coming to blows in the camp canteen. The whole business has filled plenty of tabloid column inches. One headline declared: "Trapped miner has pit on the side".

The romantic

Scrawled in Biro, on a torn sheet of A4 paper, the short message from maintenance mechanic Esteban Rojas, 44, to his girlfriend Jessica Ganiez ended up on front pages across the world. "When I get out, let's buy the dress," it read. "We'll get married."

The couple have been together 25 years, have raised three children, and are already grandparents twice over. But though they were legally hitched in a registry office some time ago, they've never been able to afford a proper church wedding.

That's all about to change. Public interest in their relationship has sparked a media bidding war over the forthcoming nuptials. One tabloid reporter arrived at the mine on Sunday with a Vera Wang gown, in an effort to negotiate a photo-shoot with Ganiez.

Patrick Bodenham