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Wife of trapped miner hopes for his rescue as she awaits baby's birth

By Karl Penhaul, CNN
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Pregnant wife's hope for miner
  • Elizabeth Segovia is due in less than two weeks
  • Her husband is one of the 33 trapped miners
  • "When I heard about the accident, my world just collapsed," she says

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) -- A black and white ultrasound shows a baby girl nestling in her mother's womb.

Elizabeth Segovia is due in less than two weeks. But her husband, Ariel Ticona, won't make it in time for the birth.

In a grainy, monochrome video, recorded this week, Ticona appears in the dim beam of a flashlight trapped half a mile underground.

He is one of 33 miners who have been holed up 700 meters (2,300 feet) deep for nearly four weeks following a cave-in in the San Jose copper and gold mine in northern Chile.

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"When I heard about the accident, my world just collapsed. I cried and cried. I couldn't even sleep for five days straight," Segovia told CNN, speaking at her modest breeze block home in a working-class neighborhood of Copiapo, the town nearest to the collapsed mine.

The miners lost all contact with the world above for 17 days. Rescuers feared they were dead. But they survived by rationing out cans of tuna -- one can per man every four days.

Against all the odds, search teams, working on the surface and drilling a series of probes deep into the rock, located the men alive in a cavern-like shelter -- now called "Refuge 33".

"I was fixed to the spot for a moment but then I erupted in shouts and screams of happiness," Segovia said.

She says she keeps repeating the good news to her unborn baby, each time she feels her give a kick.

I've been talking to her and telling her daddy's OK. I can't cry because if I did the baby would feel everything," Segovia said.

An ultrasound scan on August 4 confirmed Segovia, 26, and her husband, Ticona, 29, are having a girl.

The following day, as he was working, the San Jose mine collapsed about 350 meters down, forcing the 33 miners inside to flee deeper down the mineshaft. All entrances were blocked.

Between the ultrasound and the disaster, the couple had time to pick a name. They decided to call their baby Carolina.

But deep underground, cut off from the world, Ticona has been thinking. He believes he's come up with a better name.

He sent word of his decision to Elizabeth in a letter he penned far down in the mine and then sent to the surface via one of the 2-1/2 meter (8 foot) metal tubes rescuers are using to send supplies down to the trapped men.

"Our baby is going to be called Esperanza Elizabeth," beamed Segovia.

"Esperanza" means "Hope" in Spanish.

"We're calling her Hope, first, because we never lost hope. Second, because it's the name of the camp where the families are living (Camp Hope). And third because the 33 miners never lost hope either," she said.

Engineers could take three to four months to drill a rescue shaft wide enough to hoist the miners back to the surface. There's no chance Ticona will make it for the birth.

So a relative has agreed to video the new arrival and record it on an MP4, then drop it underground. Segovia had been planning a natural childbirth but hospital regulations don't allow families to film those. So Segovia had to agree to a cesarean section, the only way staff would allow her relatives to video the event.

"We have to record the birth in great detail as well as everything that happens to my baby day by day so we can show him," Segovia said. The couple already has two boys, Jean-Pierre, 9, and Steven, 5. But this will be the first daughter.

The miners have so far recorded two videos underground and sent greetings back to the surface. Ticona is the only one who has not uttered a word. Rumors swirled he was depressed or angry, but Segovia says he's camera-shy and does not easily exhibit his emotions.

But in the 23-minute video sent this week, he can be seen bare-chested, smiling, giving a thumbs-up and waving a Chilean flag sent down by rescue teams.

Segovia says he's passionate about two things in life: his family and soccer.

"He loves playing football with the kids, that's his passion. He'd even stop going to work to watch football on the TV," Segovia said. Earlier this year, she said, her husband had taken a month-long leave of absence to watch the soccer World Cup.

He also missed the birth of his first child because there was an important game involving his favorite team, "Universidad de Chile" (La "U") that day. He missed the second birth because he was squeamish, Segovia said, but he had promised to be present at his daughter's birth.

Segovia said her sons miss their dad desperately.

When asked what message they would like to relay to him below ground, Steven answered: "be well daddy and I hope they send you good food. Sleep well."

"I love you a lot. I hope nothing bad happens to you down the mine," said the eldest son, Jean-Pierre.

Being apart is tough. But with help from Chilean medics, psychologists, submarine experts and even a team from NASA, Ticona and his comrades seem likely to survive.

Loved ones will not be separated forever.

"Maybe he won't be there for the birth. But he will be here to see her growing up," Segovia said.

If all goes to plan, someday soon the baby in the black and white ultrasound will meet her miner father -- the one in the grainy monochrome video filmed in the bowels of the earth.