Miners’ rescue a test of faith, commitment for Sgt. Roberto Ríos

Por Dialogo
octubre 18, 2010

Everyone did a great job, but all that was done due to the presence of God because only He can allow such great work with humans. Many congratulations to all who participated but especially the Almighty our Lord Jesus for giving them the opportunity to all those miners and protect them until rescued. God bless you always! This is a real and true testament. All uniformed troops and especially I believe, like my Lieutenant Rios, that the mission has been carried out when the last man has been rescued, and the rescuer has fulfilled his duty.
Bravo Zulu Navy rescue team, always on the front lines.

COPIAPÓ, Chile – Army Sgt. Roberto Ríos Seguel was watching the news
with his wife Ivette in their hometown of Quilpué, in central Chile, when he learned
about the 33 miners trapped inside the San José copper and gold mine in Copiapó.
But little did he know he was going to be one of the rescue workers who would
spend 25 hours beneath the surface helping lift each of the 33 workers to safety.
Ríos, a 34-year-old who has experience as a military nurse, received training
overseas on how to escape from confined places, tactical diving, and surviving in
extreme conditions.
Ríos, however, said he saw the culmination of his entire professional
training when Florencio Ávalos emerged from the Fénix 2 capsule.
“Now, I know about mines,” he said.
In an exclusive interview with Infosurhoy.com, the father of Roberto Jr., 3,
and 7-year-old twins Paz Alexandra and Elizabeth de los Ángeles, talks about his
work, his life and his role in the unprecedented Oct.13 rescue.

Infosurhoy.com: What went through your mind when the door of the Fénix
2 was locked before sending you beneath the earth’s surface?

Sgt. Ríos: I am a Christian man. I thanked God for all I had lived, for
having the opportunity of being part [of the rescue]. I put my faith in God: I was
praying as I descended. I thought about many things, including my family and the
[33] miners’ families. But I was very focused, because while I was inside the Fénix
we had to stop it twice, once because the door was jammed and also because of
another glitch. The third time, they asked me if I was ready and I told them that I
had been ready for a long time.

Infosurhoy.com: When did you know you were going to participate in the

Sgt. Ríos: About three weeks ago. I got a message asking me if I was
willing to be part of the rescue team. I immediately said “yes.” I had no doubts
that I had to be part of this, and from then on, all has been happiness. You become
happy for participating in these kinds of assignments.

Infosurhoy.com: When did you get to the mine?

Sgt. Ríos: Ten days ago. From then on, we have been working on a
special casing, similar to the one used on the first 50 meters (164 feet) of the
shaft. With this casing, we tested the Fénix 1, we went up and down several times
and we practiced. Even though we had headlights, my rescue partner 1st Cpl. Patricio
Roblero and I trained in absolute darkness, thinking in the worst case scenario. If
the lights went out, we were going to be ready.

Infosurhoy.com: Which miner did you see first?

Sgt. Ríos: I saw many faces, really. I don’t remember who I saw first,
but I do remember that all were very effusive. Lots of hugs, lots of “Viva Chile,”
lots of “Welcome, Sergeant.” There were also a lot of smiles. When I got down there,
we were all very happy, we all hugged.

Infosurhoy.com: Did you cry?
Sgt. Ríos: No. Do you know when I felt very emotional? When the first miner,
Florencio Ávalos, went up and his little boy and his wife were waiting for him at
the surface. But I was there to work. I introduced myself to the miners, I told them
what I was there for and said “Let’s get to work.”

Infosurhoy.com: What was your task?

Sgt. Ríos: I had to check [each miner’s] pulse, blood pressure, heart
rate, eardrums, lungs and breathing frequency. If one miner was not physically ready
to make the lift, I was there to stabilize him and send another one up. But
fortunately, nobody needed to be stabilized. All of them were in good health, some
had some pre-existing conditions but they were not severe. It was very easy to work
with them.

Infosurhoy.com: While one miner was going up, what did you do?

Sgt. Ríos: We talked, but there was not time for socialization. With
1st Cpl. Roblero I was coordinating the work in the “hot zone,” talking in combat
terms. We would monitor the readings of the capsule in a computer: pressure, air and
so forth. Additionally, we were constantly checking the other miners because they
were somewhere else. See, the area where the Fénix 2 landed was the workshop space,
so the miners where 250 meters (820 feet) below. We had to control them down there,
going up and down.

Infosurhoy.com: What did you learn from this experience?

Sgt. Ríos: Personally, I learned that there is nothing impossible for
God. Professionally, learning that you can do this type of work 700 meters (2,296
feet) below the surface is priceless.

Infosurhoy.com: What did your wife say to you before you went down?

Sgt. Ríos: I told her to trust in God, to be calm and to make me calm.
My daughters blessed me. When we spoke again, my wife told me she was very proud of
me. “I was worried all this time,” she said. The girls were asking “At what time
does daddy get out?”

Infosurhoy.com: How did you feel while ascending inside the capsule
after the rescue?

Sgt. Ríos: Tremendous happiness. When all the miners were out and the
rescue members were the only ones left inside the mine, we made jokes that they had
turned off the lights and all that was left was the crane operator. Besides, being
greeted by the President of your country is an honor.

Infosurhoy.com: Who’s idea was having a flag with the words “Mission
Accomplished, Chile”?

Sgt. Ríos: It was 1st Cpl. Roblero’s idea. He suggested demonstrating
the objective had been completed with something – and nothing is better than a flag.
We wanted the world to see that with Luis Urzúa up there, the mission was indeed
accomplished. If we got stuck down there, it didn’t matter.