It is a testament to the human spirit- an international effort that saved the lives of 33 men trapped underground in a small, dark mine in Chile for nearly 70 days.
This story is as much about the men who rallied together to raise each other’s spirits as it is about the amazing rescue effort which brought together the best minds around the globe in near-perfect cooperation.
This week their efforts paid off. After months of drilling a hole barely two feet in diameter, it was time.
One by one the men slowly rose to the surface. Much like scuba divers, their ascent was purposely slow to monitor any health issues on their return. All the men wore dark black sunglasses donated by Oakley designed to protect their eyes from normal light. It was striking how healthy these men look and sound.
“Thank you for transmitting your faith and hope,” said the first miner to be 올인구조대, 31 year old Florencio Avalos Silva. Like many of the men he was greeted with tears by his family- his wife and young children.
Many of the men spoke of God and feeling an otherworldly presence protecting them.
19 year old Jimmy Sanchez Lagues wrote a touching note to his wife shortly before the rescue mission began- “There are actually 34 of us,” he wrote, “because God has never left us down here.”
“I never thought for one minute that God wouldn’t get me out of there,” said 40 year old Mario Sepulveda Espinace. ” I believe that I had extraordinary luck, I believe this was a test… I believe that God does test people and I believe that we have the possibility to confront things in life such as what we had to confront… but I’m very happy that it happened to me because I believe it was the moment in which to make changes.”
Over the months that they were trapped, we got to know these men through their videos, letters, poetry and unusual requests. There was Edison Pena Villarroel, known for jogging an hour per day underground in the mine and for being a huge Elvis fan- he even requested that rescuers deliver Elvis music underground.
Esteban Rojas Carrizo, proposed to his partner of 25 years via a piece of scrap paper. “When I do get out, we will buy a dress and get married,” the note said.
Claudio Acuña celebrated his 34th birthday and also became engaged while trapped a half mile from the Earth’s surface.
The story of the Chilean miners will soon become legendary. For the first 17 days of their time underground the men didn’t know if anyone would ever find them. They calmly rationed two bites of tuna fish and a half cup of milk per person, every other day.
By the time they were found, alive but far from reach, the joy was immediately mixed with fear. How long would it take to dig a hole to bring them to the surface in a desolate and unforgiving area that is prone to Earthquakes? Any quake, any tremor could cause the mine to collapse completely.
Keeping the men alive would be a challenge. Everything must fit through a 4-inch tube down the half mile shaft to the men. Food, supplies, medicine- even an inflatable bed was sent down the small shaft. The men would have to be brought back to health slowly- give a person a full meal after weeks of meager rations, and they could suffer from heart failure.
On the surface, temperatures would vacillate between scorching heat during the day to bone-chilling cold at night. This was not the ideal place for rescue workers. Below ground, the trapped miners faced other challenges- the dust and damp air of the mine could cause lung and skin problems- and months with no exposure to the sun would make their eyes extremely sensitive to light.
While the Chilean government has been astounding in this rescue effort (the aptly named Phoenix- the bullet-like pod that carries each miner to the surface, is even painted with the colors of the nation’s flag), this rescue is truly an international effort. Experts from around the world contributed medical, nutritional, psychological, and engineering skills. Work crews raised flags from Canada, the United States, Argentina and even Pakistan.