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Page last updated at 12:49 GMT, Monday, 18 October 2010 13:49 UK
Trapped Chilean miner: 'I'm more human now'

'The Runner' Edison Pena said seeing daylight again was his motivation to survive 69 days in Chile's San Jose mine

By Dan McDougall
BBC Panorama, Copiapo, Chile

Edison Pena says he has emerged from the rubble of the San Jose mine "more human" and "more loving" than the man who descended down a shaft in the side of a mountain for what should have been a routine shift.

Speaking to the BBC after his rescue last week, the 34-year-old miner has laid bare the appalling reality of life entombed 700 metres underground for 69 days.

Known as "the Runner", Edison, perhaps the most traumatised of all 33 miners who cheated death at the base of the mine shaft in Copiapo, painted a disturbing portrait of bewilderment and loss.

"Why am I not dead? Because it's unfair to die. Why should I die? Why should I die?" he told the BBC's Panorama in a frantic and at times disturbing interview.

"Do you have any idea of how is it to live in that darkness? Do you really know? I didn't want to remain there. Why do I have to be trapped in here? I don't want to be trapped here. I want to live, I want to get out of here."

It's really hard to come back from death, it's very hard. Now I just want to live, I want to live
Edison Pena

Edison's interview was the continuation of a conversation that began via a series of emotional and at times heart-wrenching letters exchanged with the Panorama team while he was still trapped underground.

The small bore holes used as a supply route became Edison's life line and his way of sharing details of life deep underground as rescuers worked frantically to free the men.

In his notes, Edison spoke of how he hated the mountain and wanted to destroy it, how he ran and tested his body physically in a bid to mentally defeat the wall of rock that entombed him.

In our response to him, we tried to echo his words and feed him any encouragement we could. We wrote: "Destroy that mountain. Hate it. Send it to the ground with your fury."

Haunted by hunger

For his fellow trapped miners, despite their miraculous rescue, he also might offer a warning of the torment yet to come.

Behind the gusto and bravado of liberation lies what was, for a time, the unfathomable reality of freedom.

Throughout his interview, Edison's bitterness at the plight he has suffered is palpable and borders on the frenzied.

Edison Pena dragged wooden crates in a bid to improve his stamina

It is clear that the intense hunger he felt during those first fateful days - his ribs protrude from his chest - is what haunts him the most.

"I think from now on no food will be wasted in my house. I want to give a big message concerning world hunger. I never thought of giving an interview, but now I think that God was protecting us, he was protecting me, and humbly I wouldn't like to let a single grain of rice go to waste at home, because that's what I felt, that hunger and to go over that again is too strong for me.

"It's really hard to come back from death, it's very hard. Now I just want to live, I want to live. "

The group of men will have regular medical checks for the next six months to nurse them back to health and guide them through a difficult psychological period.

Panorama, BBC One
Monday, 18 October at 2030BST
Then available in the UK on BBC iPlayer

Doctors are most concerned about stress-related illnesses in the coming weeks.

The tough culture of the industry will help some miners cope, but psychologists warn of a flipside that means they may be less inclined to ask for help when they need it.

Some are expected to suffer flashbacks, anxiety and other clear symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

'Stay alive'

Survivors of near-death experiences, particularly those who endure precarious conditions as prolonged as the men have, face other troubles as they readjust to normal life and feel the burden of becoming publicly known figures overnight.

Candid about his torment, Edison said the support offered to him by both his partner Angelica and through the exchange of letters with those above ground helped him get through his ordeal.

The written words were, he said, something to cling on to in the darkness.

Edison Pena
Edison Pena used the deep tunnels to run and exercise

After his rescue, Edison said receiving the letters made him remember that there was life beyond the mine shaft.

He said that he told himself, "'Come on, stay alive' - but it was very hard to stay alive. The letters showed the world is here, it's good to be back to life."

In a series of photographs taken with a camera sent down to Edison during our written correspondence, he also reveals a glimpse of a life spent in darkness.

Unlike the other trapped men who turned to God, Edison's salvation was exercise. The photographs show the lengths he went to in a bid to overcome his demons.

Edison ran up to eight kilometres a day in the sweltering humidity of the mine. In a bid to improve his stamina, he took to towing a wooden crate behind him.

"I think these photographs are really a life testimony, and I want everybody to understand it. It's not to show off, I'm not looking to get famous by running. I think that running on the surface again…and seeing the beach. I think nothing compares to this."

His reputation for running, along with his love of Elvis Presley, have led to invitations to attend this year's New York City marathon in November and to visit Presley's Graceland mansion in Tennessee.

Despite what he has been through, Edison said he does see a better future for himself and his family.

Edison's reliance on intense exercise worried the medical team

"Now there is light, then there was none. There I had to go around with a flashlight. But now I'm really happy to be back in my country, and with this light. I thought I would not be coming back. But I did, so I'm very happy."

Of his personal, remarkable journey, he said: "I think that now I'm more human. I think I'm loving everybody more, I believe in touching people. I think I love myself much more."

Panorama: Trapped - the Chile Miners' Story, BBC One, Monday, 18 October at 2030BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.



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