WorldThe day 33 miners were trapped underground: how the...

The day 33 miners were trapped underground: how the historic rescue went and what happened to them afterwards


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Twelve years ago, on the afternoon of August 5, 2010, a landslide occurred inside a mine located north of Chili. Inside 33 miners were trapped. The rescue work would begin about 10 hours later and would last for 69 days, becoming one of the most mediatic cases of recent times.

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The San Esteban Primera company, in charge of the San José mine, took about five hours to report the collapse. Despite the delay, the authorities began work with the idea that there were 34 men buried under the collapse. Later, it would be known that one of the names included in the list had fallen asleep, so he did not enter the mine.

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By the morning of August 6, the collapse was already news throughout Chile. A first escape attempt took place within the first 48 hours, but was thwarted because the company had not finished building the fire escape that would have brought them back to the surface.

The next day, the Chilean Mining Minister, Laurence Golborne, reported that the scenario had worsened. A second collapse had blocked the ventilation shaft through which they planned to rescue the miners.

On August 7, operations were on the verge of being canceled due to a second collapse that covered the mine’s ventilation shaft. (MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP /)

From the government of Sebastián Piñera it was announced that the rescue tasks would be canceled due to the low probability of finding them alive. The relatives of the miners, who from the first day built in Camp Esperanza, next to the fences of the mine, refused to accept it.

The pressure took effect and by August 9 a new strategy was initiated: to drill a well to where the 33 are.

The relatives did not give up hope and pressured the Government not to cancel the location and rescue operation.

The relatives did not give up hope and pressured the government not to cancel the location and rescue operation. (ARIEL MARINKOVIC / AFP /)


As the days went by, however, the hope of relatives and rescuers diminished. Failures with the probes showed that the possibility of contacting the miners was remote. On August 22, however, a note would return the illusion.

“The 33 of us are fine in the shelter,” said a note that the trapped had managed to send after one of the probes sent from abroad managed to reach the area where they had taken refuge.

Immediately afterwards a video camera was sent where the trapped men could be seen for the first time.

President Piñera shows the historic message

President Piñera shows the historic message “we are fine in the refuge, the 33”, written by the miners and considered the first sign of life after the second collapse. (HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP /)

During the 17 days that they remained without contact with the outside, the miners had managed to survive thanks to the rationing of the scarce resources that the emergency zone had.

At 48-hour intervals, each miner ate two tablespoons of tuna, half a glass of milk, half a cookie, and shared a jar of canned peaches.

In the place where they were, in addition, a temperature of 35 ° C was recorded.

Only on August 23, the authorities in charge of the rescue managed to send dehydrated food, water and messages to the miners thanks to the probe.

Authorities used a tube to deliver food and water to the trapped men.

Authorities used a tube to deliver food and water to the trapped men. (MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP /)


Once contacted, the rescuers faced the second big challenge: how would they get them back to the surface?

Engineer André Sougarret and a team of rescue specialists and engineers began designing what would later become known as Fénix. It was a capsule 4 meters high and weighing 450 kilos that should go down 622 meters to the location of the miners.

20 drilling machines were arranged to start digging a tunnel to the area where they were. Meanwhile, from the surface, Jean Romagnoli led the medical team that constantly monitored the trapped men.

By August 26, a second video surfaced. The miners greeted their families and sang the Chilean national anthem.

On August 26, the second video of the miners was broadcast where they could be seen in good spirits and sang the Chilean national anthem.

On August 26, the second video of the miners was broadcast where they could be seen in good spirits and sang the Chilean national anthem. (MINISTRY OF MINING / AFP /)

Finally, on October 13, 69 days after the first collapse, the rescue team led by Manuel González began the descent to meet him.

The operation lasted 22 hours, five rescuers participated in addition to González and 78 ascent and descent trips were made. Outside the venue, some 3,500 people nervously watched the operation, while media from around the world broadcast the event to more than 1,000 million viewers.

The first to leave was Florencio Avalos. Then Mario Sepúlveda did it. While the last of the group was Luis Urzúa, shift leader at the time of the disaster.

Once rescued, Gonzales and his team ascended to the surface. The mission had been successful and marked a milestone in the history of global rescue operations.

The Phoenix capsule, 4 meters high and weighing 450 kilos, managed to descend 622 meters to the miners' location.

The Phoenix capsule, 4 meters high and weighing 450 kilos, managed to descend 622 meters to the miners’ location. (CHILEAN ARMY / AFP /)


The disaster raised a wave of criticism against the operating company of the San José mine and the government. Piñera, who was accused of trying to capitalize on the rescue to gain popularity, dismissed during the search days the senior staff of the National Service of Geology and Mining for the precarious supervision of the mine.

The Atacama Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal investigation in search of those responsible for the tragedy. However, the controversial investigation concluded three years later without finding guilty.

Thirty-one survivors, for their part, brought civil proceedings against the government for negligence. Those affected demanded 535 thousand dollars for each one in reparation concepts.

A Chilean court ruled in their favor, ordering a payment of 100,000 dollars for each one, but in 2021 the Santiago Court of Appeals reduced the sanction to 55,000 dollars.

The Chilean State, for its part, grants them a lifetime pension of 400 thousand pesos (just over 430 dollars at current exchange rates).

A book was written and a movie was shot inspired by the history of the miners; however, they received no profit because they gave up their rights due to poor legal advice.

Most survivors have expressed post-traumatic stress more than 10 years after the tragedy. Many others have expressed their inability to return to work in the field because the companies claim to fear their security demands.

Sepúlveda, the second to come to the surface, is one of those who achieved the greatest public notoriety. In 2019, he participated in an MTV reality show called “Resistiré”. He has since developed a career as a speaker and through social media.


Source: Elcomercio

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