Image: People wait in line to see Phoenix rescue capsule
Jorge Sanchez  /  AP
People wait in line to see the Phoenix 2 capsule, which lifted 33 trapped miners to the surface from the collapsed San Jose mine, as it is exhibited outside the government palace in Santiago on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010.
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updated 10/19/2010 4:48:09 PM ET 2010-10-19T20:48:09

A Chilean legislative commission is investigating reports that mining operators ignored danger warnings from a man who was later among 33 later trapped when a mine collapsed.

Deputy Carlos Vilches, a commission member, said Tuesday that miner Juan Llanes has alleged that operators refused his request to leave the mine three hours before it collapsed on Aug. 5. Llanes reportedly had heard loud sounds that indicated a collapse could be brewing.

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Vilches spoke at the opening of a public exhibit of the capsule used in last week's rescue of the miners after 69 days underground, an achievement that served as a rallying point of national pride. The exhibit in the plaza outside Chile's presidential palace is drawing hundreds of people.

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Vilches represents Copiapo, the community closest to the San Jose Mine where the collapse occurred. He said he would call Llanes and other miners to testify before the commission about conditions at the mine.

Another worker, Gino Cortez, lost his leg in a smaller collapse inside the San Jose Mine in July.

The mining company's owners and supervisors of the mining operation are under investigation in connection with the earlier accident.

A spokesperson for the San Esteban mining company that owns the mine said the firm would have no comment pending possible legal proceedings.

"It's simply incredible that even in the face of the miners' warnings, measures were not taken to prevent the accident, and to ensure that they were not in the mine when the collapse occurred," said Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter.

Recalling Chile's other great rescue

The minister oversaw a ceremony opening the exhibit of the Phoenix 2 capsule, which was used to rescue the men. Government employees could view the capsule up close, and even pose next to it for photographs, but the public had to view it from several yards (meters) away.

Painted in the red, white and blue of the Chilean flag, the capsule showed only a few scratches from its multiple trips down and up a tight tunnel to extract the 33 men and their six rescuers.

At least two cities are vying to become the permanent home for that capsule. One is Copiapo, about 50 miles west of the mine. The other is Talcahuano, 1,300 miles south, where officials feel entitled to it because the capsules were built there at a Chilean navy workshop.

Hinzpeter has suggested it will probably end up at a mining museum.

Three capsules were assigned for the rescue operation, but only two were used. They were named for the mythological bird reborn from the ashes. The other two capsules were not used but are also to be displayed. One has already been sent to China, where it will be exhibited at the Chilean Pavilion at Expo Shanghai.

Meanwhile, some the rescued miners began enjoying some of the multiple trips and other gifts they have been given, including $10,000 each from a wealthy businessman.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Rescued miners recall desperate days

  1. Transcript of: Rescued miners recall desperate days

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Finally tonight, for more than two months we wondered, all of us, what they were really going through, what it was really like down there for those 33 men trapped 2,000 feet down in a mine in Chile . Now they're out, all of them, and we're just beginning to learn just how desperate their days really were. And tonight some of them have spoken with our own Natalie Morales about their ordeal.

    NATALIE MORALES reporting: Just four days out of the mine, Victor Zamora and Carlos Barrios are seeing the museum now open in honor of Los Treinta Y Tres . What's it like for you two now seeing these images?

    Mr. VICTOR ZAMORA:

    MORALES: 'It's like being there again, every moment,' says Victor . They point out their pictures, the 33 faces that now tell a story of horror, courage and survival. The first breakthrough, what was that moment like for you?

    Mr. CARLOS BARRIOS:

    MORALES: 'It was very emotional. As you can see by my smile, we knew something good was coming soon.' Physically they're OK; emotionally, they have a long way to go .

    Mr. ZAMORA:

    MORALES: 'When we became trapped, I screamed, "We're not going to get out of here ." I thought of my kids. It was very painful.' Desperation set in. They were dying and they knew it.

    Mr. BARRIOS:

    MORALES: They even wrote farewell letters. Did you prepare yourselves?

    Mr. ZAMORA:

    MORALES: 'I delivered myself. I wrote two letters, they stayed below in the mine.' What did you say in those letters?

    Mr. ZAMORA:

    MORALES: 'I told my wife to take care of my son and to give him good values.' They missed their families, they missed celebrations. Victor turned 34 underground, but above they threw him a party. Finally, day 69, the capsule arrives. Carlos was 13th. For him, it was a joy ride.

    Mr. BARRIOS:

    MORALES: He first saw his dad and the light of day . Victor was next. He said his rebirth was like a rose about to bloom as he was reunited with his son. Did your lives change a lot, Carlos ?

    Mr. BARRIOS:

    MORALES: 'Yes, it's like we lost a part of ourselves. We still don't feel whole, we're not 100 percent.' So are you going to go back to mining, knowing the risks?

    Mr. ZAMORA:

    MORALES: 'I'll go back. It's a passion. We're miners. We're proud to be miners. It's a family.' Natalie Morales , NBC News, Copiapo, Chile.

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