Rescued Chile miner joyous, but also talks of devil

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010 08:21 GMT

By Terry Wade

COPIAPO, Chile, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Trapped deep inside the earth for 69 days, Mario Sepulveda never lost his sense of humor, so when he was finally pulled to safety on Wednesday, he brought a souvenir with him -- a bag of rocks.

The rocks, which Sepulveda gave out to rescue workers, appeared to be wrapped in silver tinfoil. Hundreds of people watching on a TV feed giggled as he brought a touch of humor to a tense and riveting operation to free him and 32 other men from a collapsed mine here in northern Chile.

Sepulveda is known for being a bit of a comedian, and he even tried to hand a rock from deep inside the San Jose mine to Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who responded by laughing and giving the rescued miner a bear hug.

Pinera then appeared to shed a tear after Sepulveda was whisked on a hospital gurney into a makeshift clinic for a medical check up.

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Sepulveda&${esc.hash}39;s whoops of joy were audible from the escape shaft even before he surfaced from the mine, a new sign of the remarkable resilience demonstrated by the 33 men since they were trapped when the mine caved in on Aug. 5.

But for all the humor, he also showed a darkly serious streak.

"I have been with God and I&${esc.hash}39;ve been with the devil," Sepulveda later said in an interview flanked by his family.

Throughout their ordeal, the miners appear to have held together and their spirits often seemed high, but psychologists say some will likely suffer from stress long after the rescue is complete and they are reunited with their families.

Sepulveda called for deep changes to protect workers rights and appealed to be treated like a worker and a miner rather than a celebrity: "Please don&${esc.hash}39;t treat us like artists."

He was believed to be an emotional leader of the miners underground, and television images showed him keeping it up right until the end, laughing heartily and clowning around as he climbed into the capsule and said farewell to the others.

When he reached the top, he hugged his wife before ripping open his bag full of rocks and handing them out with a big smile. He then ran over to a group of friends to hug them and lead them in yelling out a classic cheer that ended with the line: "Long live the Chilean miners!"

His mother was so moved that she had trouble speaking, and his brother, Jose Sepulveda, said simply that the homecoming was long overdue.

"We are all happy and content. We are all hugging each other and crying," he said. (Reporting by Terry Wade; Editing by Simon Gardner and Kieran Murray)

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