33 Miners: Comin’ Up!


Rescate Minero- 1º en salir, Florencio Ávalos

12:15 AM Miner Florencio Ávalos, the first miner to reach the surface


Back Story: Copiapó, northern Chile. A shaft in the San José copper and gold mine collapsed on Aug 5, trapping 33 miners inside. Early attempts to rescue them failed, apparently sealing their fate. Days passed. Hope dwindled. Whispers of “no air,” “extreme heat,” “no food; no water; no light” made the rounds. More time passed. Talk of stopping the rescue efforts began, but the families of these 33 men refused to give up hope.

“They’re miners,” they said. “They know what they’re doing, and they are alive down there,” they insisted. And they were right.


33 mineros encontrados

Restaurant goers receiving the news that Chile's 33 trapped miners were alive and well


On Sunday, August 22, we were at the restaurant where our son works. He came out of the kitchen and said in a quiet and somewhat bewildered voice, “the radio just said they’ve found the miners.” WHAT? Turn on the TV! Forks dropped one by one, and the place turned silent as the people at each table became aware of what was happening. We all watched as we heard the news live from the mine. A giant drill had broken through to a shaft more than 2300 feet below ground and returned with a soggy note attached. People rose from their seats and inched ever closer to the TV as President Sebastián Piñera took the note, now in a plastic bag, and turned it to the camera: “Estamos bien los 33 en el refugio” (All 33 of us are ok and in the shelter).

All of Chile cheered

33 Miners Coming up: the Rescue Begins

Last night, October 12, 2010, people around the world gathered before their televisions and computer screens to wait, tense, anxious, and hopeful for the first miner to reach the surface.


Rescate minero- 1º sube el ducto

Midnight, Oct 13, 2010: The first miner, Florencio Ávalos, heads up the tunnel


The good news came at 12:15 AM on Wednesday, October 13, when Florencio Ávalos was the first to step out of the claustrophobically narrow tube that had transported him up and out of the bowels of the earth. Again, Chile cheered…and the world joined in.


Rescate Minero- familia de minero Florencip Ávalos

"Papi!!!" Florencio Avalo's son and wife catch their first glimpse of the miner in 70 days.


Call it a miracle, if you’re so inclined—or look at it as yet another sign (in this year of far too many signs) that life in this gorgeous land called Chile comes at a price, and Chileans are willing to pay it.

The year began with the earthquake in February, and the world was astounded that an 8.8 & tsunami combo was not enough to bring the country to its knees. That there was such relatively little loss of life. That more buildings hadn’t toppled. And now, 33 men have survived 70 days, longer than anyone in history, trapped nearly a half mile below ground.

There’s a reason for it. Luck? Sure, there’s that. But more than that is a large degree of Chilean know-how and stubborn determination. Chile is a country of people who know their land and how to live in it. People who know that there will be another earthquake and how to react when it comes, even at 3:34 AM. People who know that when the earth shudders, the sea may strike back, and they head for the hills. People who know that those mineral-rich mountains will not give up its ore easily and that to spend a lifetime below ground requires a clear head and a plan.

The stories of how the miners survived will come out in time, but the fact is that this group of men—burly, testosterone-heavy miners, who, one could imagine, might be ready for a brawl at the slightest provocation—made a plan, and stuck to it. Surely there were disagreements, but despite the extreme heat, darkness, and cramped adverse conditions, and fully aware that an invitation to “step outside” was not an option, they kept their wits about them. They needed to work together to get through this and they did.

Like sailors on a tempestuous sea or mountaineers on a snowy peak, they knew the earth that enclosed them, and refused to let it entomb them. These 33 men are the latest examples of Chile’s everyday heroes, of the men and women who know, love, and respect this land that gives—and takes away—and only occasionally gives back. They are the latest examples of why Chileans say with tremendous pride, Viva Chile, Mierda! (Don’t get it? Click for more on this curious expression).

Update: October 14, 2010

Happy Ending! All the miners and the 6 members of the rescue team are out, safe & sound, and President Piñera, officially capped the tunnel. The mine will remain closed for a long, long time.

He also said that this will not go unpunished. And today’s headlines declare that nothing like this will ever happen again in Chile as a result of insufficient state regulation of safety standards.  Amen to that.

Remarkable  Photo Essay from La Tercera: Los Mineros

Cachando Chile reader Nano Fernández contributed this link to a collection of amazing photos on Flickr that document every stage of the process . Thanks to Nano and his friend, photographer Hugo Infante! Flickr Photos: Rescate Mineros.  Thanks Nano & Hugo!


44 responses to “33 Miners: Comin’ Up!

  1. Having Chilean connections, I followed this story before the UK media got a hold. My son and family were also eating out when the miners were announced as found, their story was the same as yours, i.e. the restaurant went mental. I just cannot see that happening in England. I admit to damp eyes when the first miner came up-and I was only watching a recording! Now 22 out and all fingers and toes crossed that there are no problems for the others. Bravo!

  2. Hi Jack-it’s amazing how these kinds of disasters pull people together. But you really think England–another mining country–wouldn’t feel the same?
    With every new guy that makes it to the top I think, so far, so good… and like you, have all fingers crossed!!

  3. I’ve been truly touched to see how everyone has been glued to the TV and is watching the saga of the miners. I think it is an event that might have played out differently in another country, but the Chilean solidarity won out here.

  4. England isn’t really a mining country any more I’m afraid, certainly not deep mining, Margaret Thatcher (a big friend of dear Augusto Pinochet) saw to that. Mining now is mainly, if not all, open cast so no deep mines any more although there are a few private, relatively shallow, underground mines in Kent and the Forest of Dean. I spent some of my formative years in Yorkshire and the Yorkshire coalfield, particularly in and around Doncaster in South Yorkshire. The mining men and their wives and families were solid gold as far as I was concerned, so united, so solid with each other yet so friendly to outsiders. I can well imagine them and other miners identifying with the Chilean miners, certainly they would have sent messages of support, and money if needed. Whereas I cannot imagine anything being announced in an English restaurant whatever it was. Unless the Queen had died!
    Anyway, 26 out so far and I am trying to work out when the last miner will come out. I feel I should be there, even if only via TV here in UK.

  5. Jack, yes, I know that England’s mining industry has all but died out, but I’m sure there are plenty of towns where that hardworking mining spirit is still very much alive.
    I have no relationship to mining at all, but from everything I’ve ever heard, seen, or read about miners and their communities around the world, they form very tight-knit bonds that develop with knowing that every time someone goes into the mine, they may not come out, that no one is immune from the possibility of tragedy, and that the only way to get through it is to stick together. Just as the families did here in Chile. They went to the mountain and camped out and refused to leave without their miners. And by God they did just that!

  6. No queda espacio para quejarse. Todos los que decidan vivir en esta tierra parecen destinados a vivir alguna tragedia de proporciones nacionales, unas dos o tres veces en la vida. Terremotos, tsunamis, volcanes, inundaciones o derrumbes, forman parte de la psiquis colectiva de los chilenos. Incluyo entre los chilenos a todos los inmigrantes, sin importar su origen, que deciden vivir acá en el sur del mundo, entre la las montañas y el mar. Creo que los que llegan desde otro lugar, son chilenos que simplemente no nacieron aquí, pero no menos chilenos.
    Estos eventos tal vez nos hacen estar tan acostumbrados a la fatalidad y las tragedias, y quizas cueste entender eso al principio.
    La historia de los mineros me hace sentir sincero orgullo por dos motivos principalmente; primero, por los mineros que nunca se rindieron, actuaron con ingenio y buen ánimo, estando a oscuras, sin alimento suficiente, bajo tierra, sintiendo tal vez que estaban abandonados a su suerte. ¡Y todo lo anterior, por casi tres semanas! Es algo que pienso nadie puede estar preparado para resistir, y sin embargo, estas personas nunca jamás se rindieron. Hasta se hicieron un dominó para jugar, cuando lograron un poco de luz.
    El segundo motivo, y el que hizo tal vez la diferencia con este mismo suceso en otros lugares, donde eventos similares sí terminan en tragedia, es que las autoridades, de todo tipo y rango, tampoco se rindieron, nunca bajaron los brazos y dejaron de buscarlos.
    Debo reconocer que cuando pasamos de la segunda semana, estaba seguro que la tragedia había cobrado las vidas de los mineros, y sin embargo, nadie dejó las tareas de búsqueda, y aunque se esperaban malas noticias, se usaron todos los medios posibles, para poder rescatar a los mineros.
    Eso me hace soñar, que dentro de mí puede haber algo de esa fortaleza, para luchar sin rendirme, o ayudar sin perder la esperanza, y que la gente que me rodea en mi país, pese a todo lo que uno pueda criticar, tampoco dejará de ayudarme o quemarán hasta lo último que tengan, para salvarme ante un desastre, como los que abundan en estas tierras.

  7. Marmo- qué buenas tus palabras tan acertadas. Creo que también es muy importante recordar del rol de los familiares que fueron a encampar ahí y no dejaron de esperar jamás. Ellos y ellas también mostraron toda su forteleza que lo hizo posible lograr este logro tan increiblemente admirable!

  8. Hola Margaret! Espero que estes muy bien o mucho mejor. Esto que ha sucedido con los mineros es sencillamente lo máximo. Ya van 25 afuera , cada vez quedan menos por salir .Este país de mineros y pescadores demuestra una vez más el tezón de esta gente , de este pueblo. Podemos ser el último país del mundo , pero cuando nos unimos no hay nada que nos derribe y nos doblegue. Los 33 del refugio ya estarán todos con sus familias y podrán gozar esta nueva vida que se merecen. Un abrazo y Viva Chile……..!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Margaret aquí te dejo un link con las fotos de mi amigo Hugo Infante , periodista y reportero gráfico. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rescatemineros
    que las disfrutes, minuto a minuto la salida de los 33.

  10. Nano- Gracias por tus palabras y también por el link a las fotos de Hugo Infante- ya lo incluí en el cuerpo del post para que todos puedan verlas.

  11. Once again I am proud to say I am Chilean! At this point it is difficult to mention something new about this unbelievable ordeal that has not already been mentioned by the media or by someone on a blog, but I will try.

    What Chile has accomplished is truly remarkable and it will be a source of pride for Chilenos for years to come. Both the government as well the people in the mining industry have come up with a flawless rescue plan. From seeking advice from NASA to not overlooking the smallest detail, Chile gets a 10!
    What gives me the most satisfaction is to see how this picture is so different from the way things used to be done when I lived there. I always believed that what Chile has accomplished in business, academia, infrastructure, and social services, was doable. I firmly believed that Chileans did not have to be a third world country.
    My personal frustration with the system reached such heights that I decided to move, first to the US, then Canada.

    Things have changed, minds and attitudes in Chile have changed, and once again I am a happy camper. I am happy for me and most importantly, for a whole nation.

    Chile WILL become a developed nation, and it will all take place within a generation. Truly a most remarkable achievement for a nation that not too long ago belonged to the ‘basket case’ category of third world countries.
    I was frustrated, now I am happy. Viva Chile!!!

  12. John- Yes, once again Chile has done itself proud. The world was amazed earlier this year by the response to the earthquake and yet again after this amazing feat. Honestly, I don’t think of Chile as a third world country at all. It may not be a world power, but pucha, what a great place it is! There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but the good thing is that Chile learns from each hardship it faces, and now health and safety regulations for mines and miners will certainly be made stronger and reinforced. Viva Chile!

  13. Margaret, I have nothing to add beyond saying that this was beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes (not just because I’ve been crying off and on all day, promise!). You really verbalized a lot of what I feel about Chileans’ spirit.

  14. Emily- Thanks for your kind words. I know you also wrote about this and said much of what I didn’t. That was a great post, and I love the title “A Love Letter”: http://emilyinchile.blogspot.com/2010/10/love-letter.html. And I agree with you completely about feeling grateful to live here.

  15. Hi everyone- I will respond more fully a little later on, but right now I’m glued to the news… just 1 miner left down below (plus the 2 rescue team members)… Viva Chile!

  16. All 33 up and safe. I did stay up and watch!!

  17. It was surely a fluke that I happened to see the video link just as the first miner was being cleared to ascend to newfound freedom. All I could think of was !Viva Chile Mierda! I understood that phrase in its truest meaning at that moment thanks to you. I am happy to say que estoy orgullosa que Chile es mi segunda patria.

  18. Wow, what a time of it all, hm? What a sense of relief when that last miner rose to the top and when the camera from down below showed the capsule rise for the very last time. I have to admit though that in addition to the eerie sense of relief and awe, as it rose, I remembered a tweet that someone had sent saying “hey, you left the lights on! go back and turn them off!”

  19. I have lived in Chile for nearly 7 years now. This latest event has made me feel so proud of my adopted country.
    There are so many petty things us Gringos find to complain about in Chile, however here we have ALL been taught a lesson in humanity, survival and team work.
    There will be time enough to point fingers, but for now I just want to celebrate with a chela and an empanada
    Viva Chile Mieda

  20. Or in the correct Spanish
    Viva Chile Mierda

  21. Hi Matt- I agree, in a country that has long been concerned about it’s “Imagen Pais” it’s country image, I think it has certainly shown the world its mettle this year! Maybe it comes with eating so much cazuela 😉 (for non-regular Cachando Chile readers, this is a quasi-inside joke between Matt & I).

  22. Cazuela is it! No other country in the world makes such a good cazuela, period, :0)

  23. Had I been trapped for 70 days in a hole half a mile down, no doubt even I would crave a cazuela

  24. @MattWilson. Hey Matt, has your cazuela experience been less than satisfactory? Too bad my grandma is no longer with us. She made the absolutely yummiest cazuela in the entire galaxy and surrounding areas.

  25. @JohnCarr. Yes, I have yet to have a Cazuela that I can even finish. I do believe they exist, I just have not found one. I live in the country though so maybe they are more of a city type food.

  26. @John- Don’t get Matt going on Chilean food! He knows that cazuela is my favorite Chilean dish but he swears he hasn’t had a good one yet. Hard to believe really….
    @Matt- I think Cazuela is more of a country thing–and while I usually prefer beef cazuela over “ave” (literally “bird” but usually means chicken or turkey), the very best I ever had was a Cazuela de Gallina in el campo de Elqui, on a photo shoot with Hernán. He asked the guy if his mother could prepare us lunch, left the money, we came back a few hours later to find one less chicken in the yard and the best cazuela EVER on the table! Yum!

  27. Pingback: Viva Chile, Mierda! (It’s a good thing) | Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

  28. Lucky miners had the fortune to suffer this accident during a government of managers, who are used to be measured by results. Typical politicians would have most likely failed and said “we made our greatest effort”.

  29. How did this conversation go from Chilean miners to cazuela, I do not know. Matt, Margaret is right. Cazuela is a country thing. The one I refer to was always made in the country at grandma’s house, and as Margaret so correctly observes, it was cazuela de gallina. Here is the deal; when we go back to Chile, both you and Margaret are invited to come over to my house and enjoy the second best cazuela in the entire universe prepared by my mother.

  30. @Gonzalo- Good point. I’ve been thinking along these lines too. When Piñera said, “esto no será impune” (this will not go unpunished) I got the impression that he had spoken with the owners one-to-one, businessman to businessman, and said, “you didn’t do the right thing.” It will be really interesting to see how this plays out…

    @John- that’s one of the interesting things that happens here–just like in any conversation, you start out on one topic and veer off into another.
    @Matt- John’s offer sounds like a good one–are you up for it?

  31. @ John and Margaret. YES. I will even bring some the wine. I have a few connections.Thank you so much for the kind invitation. The Challange is on. Certainly one of the wonderful things about Chileans is their fantastic hospitality

  32. Oooh, John, then a challenge it is! I’m easy–I’m already sold on a great cazuela, but Matt’s going to be the Simon Cowell of this operation… but on the other hand, when he offers to bring wine, be sure to take him up on it… I can vouch for his most excellent “connections” (beginning with his wife!)

  33. It’s a deal guys, I’m serious. As soon as we have the tickets I’ll let you both know that we are on our way. Matt, one small favour. Should you happen not to give my Moms cazuela a thumps up, please do not act like Simon Cowell. I think he is a real horse’s ass. Yeah I know it’s a show, but show or not, people have feelings and Cowell surely doesn’t care. High ratings are surely more important to him than humiliating and destroying a young person’s dream in front of millions of viewers.

  34. Pingback: Miners & Media: True Life Reality Show | Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

  35. @John I have no idea who Simon Cowell is! Though if I don’t like the cazuela I will fake delight.
    A word of warning, as a Brit I am used to vegetables with a texture other than mush and I like spicy food. One of the reasons I am so dismayed with the Chilean food I have eaten, is the lack of flavours other than salt and sugar and the way they tend to present vegetables as total gloop.
    Before everyone starts to give me grief. remember I am a photographer of food and wine. I work with many many top chefs. I do understand food, food preparation and food presentation. I am sure there are good meals in Chile. I have just never had one. This is from my own personal experience. I do not speak for others.

    I await this cazuela event with anticipation and I can promise a Chilean wine to pair with the meal.
    Many thanks again for the invite

  36. @MattWilson – Simon Cowell is a smart ass British producer (No reflection on the British population at large) who became famous by being a judge in a TV show about discovering new singing stars.
    Cowell’s greatest skill is to humiliate, ridicule and be verbally offensive about any contestant who doesn’t measure up to HIS standards. Overall a real jerk

  37. @John Carr. Aha, yes ok, I’m with you. Yes I do know of him. An horrible man who wears trousers up to his armpits.
    I can promise you with hand on heart that I will be the perfect guest. I will even bring your mother a present and behave impeccably. Margaret on the other hand! WOW you better watch out for her. Half a pisco sour and she will be dancing on the table

  38. Matt… Ahem… !!
    John don’t believe a word of it! Just ask him how he wore out the knees in the pants of his good suit!

  39. Oh no! The secrets out! Hahaha

    Ok John, you can get the trousers worn out at the knees story when we meet. My poor excuse is that it was at a party to celebrate a wine my wife made getting voted best wine in the world in a major wine magazine. A trouser trashing event if ever there was one.

  40. Sure, sure, sure. I will appoint an independent task force to look into all these allegations and reach my own coclusions, if you guys don’t mind? LOL, ja ja ja.

  41. @Matt- despite John’s comments about Simon C being a horse’s ass, all I meant by the comment was that you were a tough critic and prone to saying what you think!
    And John, despite any impressions you may have formed here, Matt is truly charming and quite capable of being a gentleman… But it would probably be best if your mother did not have any long and slippery corridors, just in case Matt gets so excited by discovering a truly delicious cazuela that he sees fit to celebrate as he did when Andrea’s wine (Clos Apalta) did indeed take top honors in Wine Spectator!

  42. For my own personal safety and well being, I think I’ll stay out of this one, 🙂

  43. Boy, do I love the internet! After I made the comment about Simon C, I thought I’d Google it to see if anyone else out there shares my belief about this guy, Sure enough, look at this link, http://bit.ly/dgYXG9

  44. Pingback: Language Play & Politics a la Chilensis | Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

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