Who are these heroic Chile miners?

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 13 2010 05:36 PM | Updated as of Oct 14 2010 01:36 AM

SAN JOSE MINE, Copiapo, Chile - The first of 33 miners trapped deep underground in a Chilean mine for a record 68 days were pulled out alive on Wednesday in an amazing story of human survival against all odds.

Here are short biographies of some of the most prominent miners whose tale of hope and endurance has captivated the world:

THE FIRST OUT: For a short time 31-year-old Florencio Avalos will be the most talked about man on the planet as he emerged first from the San Jose mine into the full glare of the media spotlight.

It is no coincidence Avalos was chosen to be first. The athletic father-of-two was the second most senior miner trapped and he was considered the safest pair of hands if something went wrong with the rescue capsule.

Avalos, who loves playing football with his two children, aged seven and 17, has a brother Renan -- the doctor in the group due to his albeit limited medical experience -- who will be one of the last miners to be pulled up.

THE LEADER: Luis Urzua, 54, was the head of shift when the mine collapsed on August 5 and has acted as a leader during the long months since even though he had only been working at the mine for two months.

"We're well and waiting for you to rescue us," Urzua told Chilean President Sebastian Pinera in a first telephone conversation from the collapsed mine. He said the confinement was like "hell."

He described to the president how the mine caved in.

"The hill came down at 1:40 in the afternoon. We were worried for our colleagues who were heading out with a full truck. Then the dustbowl came and in four or five hours we couldn't see what was going on, or what the situation was. Then we saw we were trapped by an enormous rock blocking the whole tunnel."

THE OLDEST: At 63, Mario Gomez is the oldest of the trapped miners. The son of a miner, Gomez has worked in the industry since the age of 12.

He expressed his love for his wife, to whom he has been married for 31 years, from the depths of the mine.

"He's quiet and not someone to express his emotions," said his wife Liliana Ramirez, after receiving a letter from her husband. "I was surprised by his letter. He said he loves me. I've never received a letter like that from him -- even when we were going out he wasn't romantic."

The couple have four daughters.

THE EX-FOOTBALLER: Franklin Lobos, 53, is a former professional soccer player in a Chilean league. He received one of two signed T-shirts sent to the mine by Barcelona and Spanish World Cup winning star David Villa, whose father and grandfather were both miners.

"There are many (former) footballers in mining," William Lobos, Franklin Lobos' nephew, told AFP. "Since they only work until they are 36 years old, the mining companies which own the teams offer them work."

Lobos did not fear working in the mine because his work was mainly transporting miners, so he spent less time in the darkness of the tunnels, his family said.

"He has two daughters and they are both studying. He took on two jobs to earn more," said his nephew.

THE PRESENTER: Mario Sepulveda, 39, was the second worker to be pulled safely from the mine. During their 10-week ordeal he has presented most of the videos recorded by the group.

"This is a message for everyone: the mining family, my friends, is not the family it was 100 or 150 years ago," Sepulveda said in one message.

"Today, the miner is educated, you can talk to the miner, the miner can hold his head up high and sit at any table in Chile."

His wife, Elvira Valdivia, says he is a natural leader. He was a union representative in another mine in the same company.

His joyous celebrations, which included handing out rocks to rescuers and officials, were an immediate hit around the world.

THE BOLIVIAN: Carlos Mamani, 23, is the only non-Chilean in the group. The Bolivian national is due to be greeted on his safe emergence from the mine by his President Evo Morales who has made the trip specially from La Paz.

THE YOUNGEST: At just 19, Jimmy Sanchez is the youngest of the 33 trapped workers and had only been working in the mine for five months before disaster struck.