Miners honoured at presidential palace
The 33 miners saved from underground hell in Chile were honoured as heroes Monday at the presidential palace, but lost out at football against a team of rescuers captained by President Sebastian Pinera
Decked out in crisp dark business suits, the men received a medal marking Chile's independence bicentennial - while they were trapped underground - and a replica of the Phoenix capsule that hoisted to them freedom on 13 October.
The workers, ranging in age from 19 to 63, were trapped for a record 69 days in the San Jose mine and lived for the first 17 days before their discovery off just a tiny spoonful of tinned tuna or salmon each day.
Their dramatic rebirth, pulled painstakingly out of the mine one-by-one by equally heroic rescuers who risked life and limb to get them out, captured the world's attention and made them a media sensation.
Thousands of Chileans massed outside the presidential palace, applauding and cheering the miners as they strode into the palace like Hollywood stars on a special red carpet rolled out for the occasion.
The miners admitted to being overwhelmed by the reception. "We never imagined that we would get so much support. It gives me goosebumps," confessed the youngest, 19-year-old Jimmy Sanchez.
"This is amazing. We never thought there would be so many people," said Franklin Lobos, a former professional football player.
Pinera gave a Chilean flag to the 32 Chilean miners and a Bolivian flag to Carlos Mamani, the only foreigner in the group. The flags were handed out in the same order the men made it up to the surface. "We are never going to leave behind another Chilean," said Pinera, "because we have learned our lesson."
Pinera also led the squad of officials and rescue workers in the football friendly at Santiago's National Stadium. The match, organized by the government as part of the tribute fun, involved 16 players rotated in and out.
Both teams, the rescue workers and officials in red, the miners in white, had the number 33 emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys to honour the survival feat. But the miners could not emerge victorious on the pitch.
"We agreed that whichever side won got to go back to the presidential palace, and that the losing side had to go back to the bottom of the mine. So now we have to go back there and rescue these guys again," the victorious Pinera joked.