Thursday, 14 October 2010

World applauds as miners in Chile reach the surface

Sometimes the world needs a good story. A real one. I've been fascinated by the whole rescue saga of the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean copper and gold mine and have been following the story with interest.

The drama started when part of the mine collapsed on 5 August, blocking exit routes in the process. Rescue teams sent down listening probes just in case the miners survived. Seventeen days (of hell) passed... until they found a note on 22 August, left by a trapped miner which was attached to a probe, saying "Estamos bien en el refugio los 33" (All 33 of us are well inside the shelter).

Video Tour of Trapped Chilean Miners Refuge

Up to this point the miners rationed themselves to two spoonfuls of tuna, half a cookie and a half-full glass of milk every 48 hours to keep them alive. Once contact was made, the rescue team sent down supplies and water down the borehole, eventually ensuring that the miners received a proper diet.

The rescue

First miner to be rescued, Florencio Avalos
The rescue effort then started in earnest on 18 September, drilling three holes and eventually it was the second hole that reached the miners first at 622m (2040ft). A narrow rescue capsule, built by the navy, was then lowered and started to pull up the miners one by one on 12 October. The order of the miners who were rescued: Strongest and most stable first (in case something went wrong, they'd be able to deal with it mentally), weakest and oldest second (to ensure they get medical attention first) and then the rest with the shift supervisor last.

The rescue was well coordinated, went smoothly, with several countries involved. Some provided machinery, others expertise, like NASA who assisted to determine what the miners would require to survive in isolation. The miners were trapped for 69 days, longer than anyone else in history!

Second Chilean Miner Rescued - Mario Sepulveda

The miners

The miners ranged from age 19 to 63. There were a few interesting characters in the group. Florencio Avalos will always be remembered as the first miner to be rescued. The second miner, Mario Sepulveda, was by far the most jubilant. He sang with other members of the rescue team, embracing everyone around. He was a familiar face since he did most of the video diaries whilst underground. Edison Pena ran six miles every day to keep fit (and stay sane) through dark tunnels, listening to Elvis on his iPod (he has reportedly been invited to visit Graceland). Yonni Barrios was the medic underground; his wife didn't wait for him at the rescue point, his mistress arrived instead. The oldest miner, Mario Gómez, was the spiritual leader and assisted psychologists at the surface. The only foreign miner in the group was Carlos Mamani from Bolivia. Luis Urzua, the shift leader, was credited with instilling discipline in the group from day one, organising the rations that kept them alive. He was the last miner to be rescued.

Chile miners - Los 33

Media coverage

Apparently one billion viewers tuned in to watch the build up and rescue of the first miner, clearly capturing the attention of the world with all major news channels covering the story. It was convenient to follow to the story online, with many free video feeds covering the story while participating in the discussion while it happened. All you had to do on Twitter was to 'follow' a few journalists, government officials and rescue workers on the scene, who used the opportunity to send Twitter updates from their mobile devices. The family members of the miners set up a base camp called Campo Esperanza (Camp Hope), adjacent to the rescue point in the mine. Most relatives stayed there from day one in support of the miners, waiting with anticipation for the ordeal to be over.

Chilean president Sebastian Pinera and Mining minister Laurence Golborne

The Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera, and in particular the Chilean mining minister, Laurence Golborne, was present throughout. No rehearsed media conferences with teleprompters, just honest off-the-cuff updates about what was going on. Their approval ratings went through the roof and deservedly so.


Twitter has proven, again, to be a useful platform to spread the news quickly and receive recent updates of the drama as it unfolded. At one point I was watching BBC World News and after the rescue capsule was lowered into the mine, the presenter was not sure who the first nominated miner would be to get in the rescue capsule. At the same time I was using Twitter Search and immediately noticed a tweet by the Chilean mining minister where he tweeted the name of the first miner, Florencio Avalos. This was amazing since social media has outdone mainstream media, since it was easier to get actual inside information from the scene. The media world is changing rapidly.

I did a search for "miner" using Twitter Search and at one point it was updating at 15000 tweets every few seconds.


Although everyone is expected to recover from physical illness suffered during their ordeal, the big question is how this whole traumatic experience will affect them psychologically? There will be the initial euphoria of being reunited with loved ones but in the aftermath possible insomnia, restlessness and anxiety could set in. At least they all had a job to do while underground since they effectively had to help the rescue team at the surface carry out their plan. Only time will tell how they will all be affected.

Related links
Live video feed of rescue - Associated Press
Profiles of the miners - BBC News
Capitalism Saved the Miners - WSJ Read more on "World applauds as miners in Chile reach the surface"!
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