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.
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.
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.
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!