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Chilean Miner shares experience in Costa Rica

February 10, 2011

Omar Reygadas cries a lot these days.

It’s not always easy for “Ta-Ta,” or grandfather as he is known by his co-workers, to talk about being one of the miners trapped 700 meters below the ground in a Chilean mine. But he tells the story anyway.

Reygadas, 56, spoke to a captive audience last weekend at the Oasis of Hope Church in the northeastern San José suburb of Moravia.

“We were a bunch of men with different values, different ways of thinking, different lifestyles,” Reygadas said.

In August 2010, Reygadas and 32 other Chilean miners spent 69 days underground in sweltering 86-degree heat before being rescued as the world watched live on television.

For 17 days, no one knew if the men had survived. When a drill finally broke through to the tunnel where the miners were trapped, they sent a now-famous note up to the surface on the tip of the drill. The note said, “The 33 of us are O.K. in the shelter.”

Today, Reygadas shares his stories with anyone who will listen, including his six children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

At the church in Moravia, Reygadas spoke about a fight he had with another miner, Mario Sepúlveda, who the media dubbed “Super Mario.” Once Sepúlveda became angry and threw gravel at Reygadas because he thought Reygadas was lying to the group. The two men descended to a lower level in the mine where no one else could see and started fighting. But the fight didn’t last long, and eventually, the two realized they’d need to set a good example for the others.

Each time the rescue capsule, known as the “Phoenix,” descended into the mining shaft, Reygadas stayed in a corner writing his name on everything he could. He also left messages for other miners who might one day come across them.

Before the August mine collapse, Reygadas had survived three other mining accidents during a career that spanned 30 years. Now he’s happy traveling and giving speeches about his experience because he likes talking about the idea of hope.

But he also still struggles emotionally from the experience.

“The biggest problems we had were psychological ones. We’re still working some of those out,” he said. 

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