Chilean miner Ómar Reygadas never wants to go underground again

Chilean miner Ómar Reygadas hopes to avoid ever going underground again. More than two months after being freed from the San José mine along with his mates, he is giving motivational lectures to young people. José Zepeda of Radio Netherlands Worldwide comes from the precise area in Chile where the mining disaster occurred. He joined Ómar Reygadas and together they looked back on one of 2010’s most memorable events.

The 33 miners had become trapped in the San José mine near the city of Copiapó in northern Chile after a partial collapse on 5 August. They were freed in an ingenious rescue operation after spending 70 days at a depth of 700 metres. Millions of viewers watched the happy ending live on television.

It has been more than two months since their rescue and most have since received a clean bill of health. They no longer feature prominently in the media any more. A Chilean health insurance company warned them they would lose their sickness benefits if they continued to travel to countries such as Spain, the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet, few details have come out about their road to recovery.

Ómar Reygadas was one of the miners trapped in the San José mine, and the 17th to come up during the rescue operation. Speaking to José Zepeda in a radio nterview for Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s Latin American service he said he had enjoyed spending Christmas in the company of his family – he has five children, 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He no longer suffers from nightmares, even though he still has problems falling asleep.

It was not the first mining accident he had been involved in, but he had never been trapped for so long. Following this last accident he is hoping he will never have to work in a mine again, even though he loved the job that he held for 34 years. Mr Reygadas acknowledges that the work is heavy and sometimes badly paid.

“The mining industry has given me what I have, I have raised my children; I am grateful for the job that I used to have. I feel that any kind of work that I would have done, I would have been grateful for it allowing me to support a family, give the children an education and this has given me great satisfaction.”

The miners have stayed in touch. Their solidarity in the mine has created a strong bond. “We were all willing to help each other” However, he mentions one miner in particular: Mario Sepúlveda. Mr Reygadas says no one was as helpful as he. Their strong mutual bonds, religious faith and the knowledge that above ground many people were praying for them helped them keep up their courage.

“These forces came from above, from God, from Christ and the Bible my children sent me, and I knew they were outside praying for me, pleading, confident that I was still alive, and so all these forces came from outside. And my comrades inside were also as one, praying, calling on God… I believe that faith and the desire to be with our families kept us strong.”

Mr Reygadas and his colleagues are awaiting the ruling in a trial which is to determine the amount of damages to be paid out to them. Others have also changed their professions. In his lectures, Ómar Reygadas talks about his 70 days underground. He hopes to motivate young people who need encouragement.

His wish for 2011: “I think my wish would be for the world to be as united as we were during those 70 days inside the mine. I think that would be marvellous.”


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