Nine Peruvian miners walk free after six-day ordeal

  • @SimeonTegel

Peru was celebrating yesterday after the rescue of nine trapped miners whose lives had hung in the balance for six days as oxygen was pumped to them through a hose.

The men, aged from 22 to 59, emerged one by one from the unlicensed Cabeza de Negro gold and copper mine at around 7am local time, wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sunlight.

The miners waved a national flag and were hoisted on to rescuers' shoulders before being taken to hospital, although all appeared in good health.

President Ollanta Humala was also at the scene, in the arid coastal region of Ica, 200 miles south of Lima. "Mission accomplished," he told assembled reporters. "The best medicine for them now is to be with their families. They are all well, obviously a little dehydrated, a little dizzy. But it has been a point of pride with them that they all walked out."

One of the miners, Jesus Japatinta, said: "I spilled tears, tears of emotion. Mr Humala promised us work and to be licensed."

The attempts to rescue the miners had engrossed Peru since news first emerged over the weekend. They had been trapped since last Thursday when the mouth of a horizontal shaft into the rocky hillside collapsed. It left 30ft of rockfall between the miners and the outside world, and also blocked off fresh air from entering the shaft.

Despite mining being the main engine of the Peruvian economy, it took several days to assemble a crew of rescuers from large private mines – as well as some of the Chilean experts who helped save 33 miners in 2010.

The rescuers then worked around the clock, pumping oxygen, water and liquid meals through the one-inch hose as they carefully removed the rockfall and replaced it with supports for the sagging mine ceiling.

Peru is the world's second largest producer of copper, zinc and silver and the sixth largest producer of gold. Many mines operate without any kind of official permits and flout environmental, health and safety rules.