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Sealed shaft marks end of rescue operation

  |   Oct. 14, 2010 at 7:18 PM
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COPIAPO, Chile, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Chilean President Sebastian Pinera capped the mouth of the rescue shaft Thursday, marking the end of a spellbinding, months-long operation to rescue 33 miners.

Attention now shifts to the miners' health and adjustments to the world after spending 69 days more than 2,000 feet below the surface, and on the government, charged with protecting workers' safety, CNN reported.

"I hope this will never happen again," said shift foreman Luis Urzua, the last miner to emerge from the gold and copper mine near Copiapo Wednesday evening, as he and Pinera embraced.

Rescue worker Manuel Gonzalez, the first person to reach the miners using a custom-made rescue capsule dubbed Phoenix 2 and the last of six rescuers brought to the surface, also urged Pinera to push for safety of the workers.

"I hope we have learned from it and that Chilean mining will be different," Gonzalez told Pinera. "I hope that things will be done correctly -- especially dealing with small mining concerns -- that things be done right," Gonzalez told the president. "This is what I want."

Pinera said the San Jose mine should "never should have functioned as it was functioning" because of a lengthy history of violations.

"I want to announce to the Chilean workers and the employers that we are going to make a new pact in which the life, dignity and protection of workers will be the focus of government concern," he said.

Representatives of San Esteban Mining Co., the owner of the mine, have said they will cooperate with Chilean authorities and lawmakers in their investigations into what cause the Aug. 5 cave-in.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Pinera Thursday to congratulate him and his government on the rescue, the White House said.

Obama said the rescue was "a tribute not only to the determination of the rescue workers and the Chilean government, but also the miners and the Chilean people who have inspired the world," the White House said in a statement.

Pinera thanked Obama, the U.S. government and U.S. companies and individuals who helped the rescue efforts, the statement said.

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