Revealed: The extraordinary tug-of-love story of the Romeo Chilean miner trapped 2,300 feet underground for 69 days as his wife and mistress squabbled on the surface – but who did he pick?
- Johnny Barrios, 55, father-of-four, one of the 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,300 feet underground for 69 days in 2010
- ‘Romeo miner’ captured world’s attention after revealed his wife and girlfriend were waiting for him above ground
- Womaniser Barrios found himself caught between the two warring women squabbling over him on the surface
- Barrios’ story and those of the other heroic men brought to big screen in ‘The 33’, film starring Antonio Banderas
After 69 days trapped 2,300 feet underground in the pitch black, it was hardly surprising that all 33 Chilean miners were desperate to reach the ground.
But womanising Johnny Barrios would be forgiven for having been a bit less keen. Waiting for him to come to the surface were the two women in his life, his wife and his mistress.
The moment he emerged from the dark copper mine, Barrios, dubbed the Romeo miner, knew he had some explaining to do.
It was a love triangle which had gripped the world’s imagination for almost three months as the two women, his long-suffering wife Marta Salinas and his bit on the side, Susana Valenzuela, squabbled over ‘their man’ at ground level.
As the Casanova father-of-four made his journey to the top with trepidation, and the cameras rolled expectantly to beam pictures of the reunion with the woman he picked, even Chile’s president made a quick exit stage left to avoid the explosive confrontation the world had waited for.
But while lothario Barrios may have been expecting the wrath of one, if not two women, he was not expecting the world’s interest in what happened next.
‘I thought I would be known because I was the nurse, looking after my colleagues. I never thought I would become famous for my two women,’ the 55-year-old told MailOnline in an exclusive interview.
‘They still call me Johnny Barrios, the miner with two women. I have to put up with it because the story is very old.’
The label shows no sign of going away and, five years after he walked out of the mine into the arms of Susana, his complicated love life is to be released onto the big screen in the Hollywood blockbuster, ‘The 33’.
Luckily, however, the retired copper miner is no longer worried by gossip of his love life as he lives happily with Susana as his ex-wife lives just around the corner.
In the film, out in the UK early next year, Barrios is played by star of the U.S. version of The Office star Oscar Nunez, while Antonio Banderas is the leader, Mario Sepúlveda.
It tells how the 33 men survived 69 days underground, trapped by a rock the size of the Empire State building which fell during a collapse on the afternoon of August 5, 2010.
For the next 17 days the men of the San Jose copper mine north of Santiago, Chile, were cut off completely from the world and survived on nothing but a spoonful of canned tuna and two biscuits a day.
Some had a lost more than a third of their body weight while their skin was rotting in the humid conditions. More than a few were contemplating death.
Finally, on August 22, rescuers were able to drill down to the tunnel where they were sheltering to find miraculously that all 33 had survived the terrible accident. Up until that point, the miners didn’t even know if anyone was trying to reach them.
It would still be almost two months before they could dig a shaft wide enough to drag them to the surface. Through the hole, measuring just a few inches across, the men received food, water, clean clothes and long-awaited contact with their families and loved ones on the surface.
It was only then that Barrios found out to his horror that it was handbags at dawn above ground as the two women in his life came face to face.
As he was still married to brunette Marta, she got access to the mine rescue and would have benefited from his pension if he’d died – and long-term love Susana was forced to play second fiddle and watch from the sidelines as the wife took centre stage.
The tension between both women simmered along as both vied for top spot and neither could contain their dislike for one another. Barrios told MailOnline the tension was ramped up for the film and that there was no hair-pulling, back biting or cat fights, but what is clear is during that period relations were frosty at best.
Marta claimed she had no idea of Susana’s existence, while Susana claimed Marta was only interested in Barrios for his money.
Meanwhile the object of their affections sat 2,300 feet down, powerless to do anything but wait to be rescued and face the music. Finally the miner said he could take no more of their squabbling – and demanded to speak to his lover.
‘When I was buried I was actually living with Susana and not my wife,’ he explained to MailOnline.
‘It got to the point where I said, it can’t go on like this.’
Some ‘awkward’ conversations and careful negotiations took place phone and letter, until he was finally able to speak to his ‘love’, under whose roof he had been sleeping for the past three years.
But Barrios did not turn his back on his wife entirely. Marta suffers from a bad heart and psychologists on the rescue team advised him to maintain contact with her.
‘If anything happened to her, they said I would not be able to live with myself.’
So while trapped in dark mine Barrios split his five minutes’ phone time equally between his wife his girlfriend.
At the same he had the small matter of surviving underground – with the other 32 friends and colleagues, ranging in age from 19 to 63 and living in a 50 square metre shelter.
Each day, the lights came on at 7.30am, with food and water, delivered down a shaft the width of a coffee cup, which also acted as their communications tunnel.
Hot sandwiches, bottled water and medicine arrived while those trapped sent letters up.
Every man had a job from cleaning the living quarters to moving rubble in eight-hour shifts.
Barrios was the first aider and would vaccinate the men and was even an emergency dentist, pulling their teeth out.
As drills roared above their heads, rescuers broke through on October 13, the first of the paramedics was sent down the shaft it had created in a rescue capsule.
The entire world waited with baited breath as the men below organised themselves into three groups – first, the strongest ‘skilled’ workers, who would survive should something go wrong, then the weakest, and finally the strongest – those who could withstand the dreadful wait to take the eight to 20 minute journey to the top.
Barrios was number 21. He left the mine as a hero to his fellow men.
However, not everyone was happy. Conservative government officials in particular did not like Chile being represented with someone who the international press were soon portraying as womanising lothario.
When it was finally his turn to climb to board the Phoenix capsule to lift the miners through 700 metres of granite to the surface, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera left, saying he had accompany Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales to the airport.
‘That was a lie,’ said Barrios, less convinced. ‘He did not want to be there when I came out because he thought was going to be a tremendous scandal.’
In fact, nothing of the sort happened. Marta – who nervous officials had wanted to be there to greet him – admitted defeat and told Susana she could keep her man and headed home.
Marta said at the time: ‘I am happy because he made it, it’s a miracle of God. But I’m not going to see the rescue. He asked me to but it turns out that he also asked the other lady, and I am a decent woman.’
For his part, Barrios had been clear.
‘If it’s not Susana, I don’t want anybody,’ he told the authorities.
As Barrios emerged into the daylight he recalled: ‘I turned around, took off my helmet and there was Susana,’ who wrapped her arms around ‘her man’.
Since that day the couple are still living happily together as he has untangled his complicated personal life.
His black mane of hair has gone grey and he has recovered the beefy frame he had before his ordeal. Though he needs pills to sleep properly, he no longer needs the support of psychologists to forget the trauma what happened.
‘I live quietly and try not to think about,’ he said.
‘We have seen lots of psychologists and lots of psychiatrists and they have not helped much. They always make us remember what happened and that’s not good.
‘I would prefer to forget rather remember.’
The lovebirds live quietly on Barrios’ pension while Susana tends to the house and proudly looks after her ‘hero’.
‘We look after each other, she has always supported me after the accident and wherever I go, she goes,’ he explains.
The fame brought by the accident has brought some benefits. The couple travelled twice to the U.S and earlier this year went to Rome to meet Pope Francis with the other 33.
And they still live around the corner from Marta, with whom relations remain ‘amicable’. They often see each other on the street and chat or when the women visit the local store.