SANTIAGO,. A Chilean miner who spent more than two months trapped underground told AFP he was celebrating the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their football coach who were imprisoned in a flooded cave for 18 days.
“Yippeeeee!!! I’m very, very, very emotional,” Mario Sepulveda said yesterday upon learning of the successful conclusion to the Thai rescue mission.
In 2010, he was one of 33 miners trapped in a copper mine in the Atacama desert for 69 days, a dramatic saga that captivated the globe.
“What more can I say… I hope these kids are very excited,” added Sepulveda, who a few days ago told AFP he was prepared to travel to Thailand to offer his experience to help authorities save the children.
Earlier yesterday the final five members of the Wild Boars football team were extracted from the flooded cave by elite foreign divers and Thai Navy SEALs via a treacherous escape route.
The children, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach had ventured into the Tham Lung cave in the mountainous area of northern Thailand on June 23 but got trapped when heavy rains caused flooding that blocked their exit.
After spending nine days in darkness they were found by two British divers, but it took another week to devise a plan to get them out through a four-kilometer long labyrinth of flooded tunnels.
The first four boys were rescued on Sunday, but only after a former Thai Navy SEAL diver had died two days earlier when he ran out of oxygen while trying to prepare the boys’ escape route.
The rescue drama brought back eight-year old memories of the heroic attempt to save the Chilean miners after a cave-in at the San Jose copper mine in the north of Chile.
All 33 miners were eventually rescued after the world watched, enthralled at the daring extraction.
Now 47 and married with two children, Sepulveda was one of the miners’ leaders and since then has gone on to give motivation speeches.
His role was immortalised in the 2015 film The 33, directed by Mexican Patricia Riggen, in which Sepulveda was played by Hollywood star Antonio Banderas.