San Jose Mine: Before 33 trapped Chilean miners can begin their passage to the outside world, still more people will join them down below to make their journey as smooth as it can be.
These men — an elite group of three paramedics with the Chilean Navy`s special forces and 13 rescue experts with the state-owned mining company Codelco — will work in shifts during the 48 hours it could take to evaluate the men and strap them into the escape capsule for their 15-20 minute ride to the surface.
And the paramedics will be empowered to change a list, already prepared, that suggests the order of the miners` rescue.
The list is based on daily examinations of the miners` physical and mental health and strength of character during more than two months of captivity, Cmdr. Renato Navarro, the Chilean navy`s submarine chief, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The first one up should be someone capable of handling a frightening setback in the narrow shaft, and describing how the next ones up might avoid problems, Navarro said.
"The most able miners will leave first — those who can better describe to the next how they might avoid the potential problems that the capsule might encounter. Then those with illnesses or who suffer from one problem or another. And finally the last to surface are the strongest physically or in terms of their character."
Navarro would not reveal the list`s suggested order, since it may change before the miners are pulled out if a miner suffers a health setback, and since the paramedics who descend into the mine will ultimately make their own judgment calls. "The paramedics will have the last word," he said.
Among the most physically fit of the miners is Edison Pena, an athlete who said he has been running 10 kilometers a day down below.
Next come those with chronic illnesses, like Jose Ojeda with diabetes and Jorge Galleguillos with hypertension, and those who are older, like Mario Gomez, the oldest at 63.
Last up will be those considered most capable of handling the anxiety of being left behind as their comrades disappear one by one.
Candidates include the paramedic Yonny Barrios, or Jose Henriquez, who has been leading twice-daily prayer sessions. But many people believe the last miner up will be shift supervisor Luis Urzua, whose disciplined leadership was credited with keeping the men alive on an emergency food supply during their first 17 days without contact from the outside world.
"It could be Urzua, but it`s still not confirmed. The concept of a captain being the last one to abandon ship could be applied," Navarro acknowledged.
Those who know Urzua are sure he`ll insist on going last.
"He`s going to prefer that his team leaves ahead of him," said Robinson Marquez, a neighbor and former coworker of Urzua`s who describes him as extremely patient and calm.
"He`s going to make sure that all of the men leave, and leave well," added Robinson`s wife, Angelica Vicencio, who has led a nightly vigil outside the Urzua home in Copiapo.
"He`s a very good guy — he keeps everybody`s spirits up and is so responsible — he`s going to see this through to the end," she said.
When the last trapped miner goes up the shaft, two men will be left behind, and then one. Navarro said it will most likely be one of the paramedics, since they are trained to handle even their own medical emergencies, should one arise.
These paramedics — Sgt. Roberto Ros Seguel, Cpl. Patricio Roblero Abarca and Sgt. Cristian Bugueno Olivares — have long experience treating trauma victims, aiding escapes from confined spaces and surviving hostile situations.