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How Chilean soccer star-turned miner ended up trapped

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
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From football star to mine hero
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frankie Lobos once played pro soccer, but fell on hard times
  • He ended up in the Chilean mine that collapsed
  • When his rescuer arrived, it turned out they had met before

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) -- Once a star soccer player, Frankie Lobos loves being out on the field, in the open air.

But the soccer legend fell on hard times, and became a miner.

"Being on the football field is what I have spent my life doing," he says. "I never wanted to be a miner. Then I was in a mine for 69 days with little chance of surviving."

He was one of 33 miners trapped when his mine collapsed in August.

Lobos feared the mine would be his tomb.

Video: Miners celebrate being alive
Video: Chilean miner: We waited for death
Video: Chilean miner to keep working in mines

"We didn't have days in the mine," he says through a translator. "It was just one long night. A night of complete darkness."

Alone, in the dark and starving.

"Imagine it, a spoon and a half of tuna every 24 hours, then every 48 hours, at the end it was every 72 hours. There was no water left, only the water that was in the machines and we couldn't drink it," he recalls.

They were running out of everything. The men blindly scrounged for cigarette butts from the mine floor.

The only thing they had in abundance was fear. Then, 17 days after the collapse, a drill bore through, bringing both excitement and hope.

"It was chaos. All of us agreed to be calm, but it wasn't possible. That was when we returned from the dead," he says.

He had only one wish.

"All we hoped for was to see our families again. I dreamed of them every day. I saw all their faces. That was what gave me the will to survive," he says.

We didn't have days in the mine. It was just one long night. A night of complete darkness.
--Frankie Lobos
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And the family shared his will, toughing it out for weeks in the tent camp near the mine, and raising his spirits over a video conference system.

Lobos feared he would never return to his soccer field, right up until the moment the first rescuer arrived in the mine. But it turned out that the miner and the rescuer had already met.

Rescuer Miguel Gonzalez also played professional football in Chile -- against Lobos, the man he was about to save.

"He told me 'I played against you,'" when he arrived.

"I chatted with him about it, about playing with him and I said, 'Make my rescue quick. I want to be with my family.'"

His ascent was quick -- so quick that at one point he panicked, thinking he was falling back into the mine.

Gonzalez's rescue of Lobos is not the end of their intertwined destinies.

The men will meet once more on the football field in a face off between the miners and the rescuers.

President Sebastian Pinera set up the match and joked that the winners get to stay a night in La Moneda, the presidential palace, while the losers have to go back to the mine.

Lobos expects to be on the winning side.

His glory days may be behind him, Lobos says, but never bet against a Chilean miner.

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